Thursday, May 16, 2013

A 5,000-mile journey on a raft

When I was a kid, a librarian in the New Jersey town where I grew up, suggested that I read Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific On a Raft, Thor Hyerdahl's account of his death-defying journey across the Pacific. Hyerdahl, who died in 2002, was a Norwegian adventurer whose trip was meant to prove that ancient people could have travelled by sea from Latin America to the Polynesian islands. Hyerdahl was eager to challenge existing theories about great human migrations, which deemed such a journey impossible. Hyerdahl's conclusions were not universally accepted -- and still aren't. But when it comes to movies, scientific truth and adventure needn't converge. Whether Hyerdahl was right or not proves less interesting than the fact that he set out on a 5,000 mile journey to Tuamotu Island, using a raft that he believed was constructed in precisely the same way that ancient people would have built one. Hyerdahl made the trip from South America with five companions, each of whom brought a different but vital skill to the journey. I can't say I was as enthralled by the movie version of Kon-Tiki as I was by the book, but I'm older (by a lot) now. Besides, directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg have taken what amounts to a straightforward approach to a tale that they presumably felt needed little by way embellishment or interpretation. Pal Sverre Hagen portrays Hyerdahl as a Boy Scoutish figure who sometimes ignored his responsibilities as a husband and father to prove his point. But Hagen's Hyerdahl is no obsessed Ahab; he's more of a robust nerd with a point to prove. The directors allow for some tension among crew members during the voyage, as well as encounters with sharks and whales. And if the result isn't always pulse-pounding, the story remains interesting enough to carry us along with Hyerdahl as he defies conventional wisdom and puts himself at risk.

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