Kon-Tiki (2012) Feature Film ~ A Review

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Photo montage of scenes from Kon-Tiki. Central image is the theatrical poster for the film.

🇳🇴 KON-TIKI 🇳🇴

Kon-Tiki (2012) is a Norwegian adventure, biography, drama and history film. 1 hr 58 min. 15 Cert U.K. In English with some French. Available on Prime Video U.K. rent/buy £3.49/7.99; IMDb TV, Roku, Tubi USA free; Beam a Film Aus; Cineplex, AppleTV Can free.


“In 1947, the world was gripped with excitement as the young Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl embarked on an astonishing expedition – a journey of 4,300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean on the raft “Kon-Tiki”. From his days living in the Marquesas with his wife Liv, Thor suspected that the South Sea Islands had been settled by ancient South Americans from thousands of miles to the east. Despite his inability to swim and his fear of water, Thor decided to confirm his theory by sailing the legendary voyage himself.” IMDb


Pål Sverre Hagen as Thor Heyerdahl
Anders Baasmo Christiansen as Herman Watzinger
Gustaf Skarsgård as Bengt Danielsson
Odd-Magnus Williamson as Erik Hesselberg
Tobias Santelmann as Knut Haugland
Jakob Oftebro as Torstein Raaby
Agnes Kittelsen as Liv Heyerdahl
Peter Wight as Spinden
Amund Hellum Noraker as Bamse
Eilif Hellum Noraker as Thor Jr.

A theatrical poster for the film Kon-Tiki


Directors: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Cinematographer: Geir Hartly Andreassen
Writers: Petter Skavlan
Production Design: Karl Júlíusson
Music: Johan Söderqvist
Visual Effects: Arne Kaupang
Sound: Ormond Rignes & Baard H. Ingebretsen


Arne Kaupang has also been a VFX consultant or Supervisor as such projects as The Wave, Everest, The Last King, A Serious Game, The 12th Man, Bloodride and Atlantic Crossing

A theatrical poster for Kon-Tiki

⚠️ This review contains some unavoidable spoilers ⚠️


As a child, I read Thor Heyerdahl’s book about Kon-Tiki and was keenly interested in his subsequent voyages in Ra l and Ra ll. I recall watching them on TV news. I have no idea therefore as to why I had never watched this film. The cast list looked great when I checked and I saw that it had won and been nominated for a slew of awards. So reverting to my childhood excitement and admiration for this Norwegian experimental archaeologist I paid my money and pressed “Play”!

Pål Sverre Hagen as Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki

I appreciated the way that Kon-Tiki opens with the young Thor being overly “adventurous”. Clearly, this incident in his formative years did not deter him as he grew up. We see him living on a Polynesian island with his girlfriend, later wife, Liv and this period is touched on again later in the film. It was whilst living on this island that he first developed the idea that Polynesia was originally settled by people from South America. The idea was that they had travelled on a raft along the prevailing ocean current.

We next see Thor taking his doctoral thesis in for approval and thereafter (with just as much rejection and ridicule) his idea of taking a raft across to prove the point. No institution or newspaper would back the project. He meets engineer Herman Watzinger by accident, receives an important design tweak and eventually gets some support.

The crew he raises are an interesting bunch and it is at this point I am going to switch to look at characters and their portrayal in this film. Obviously, in “real life” this crew were going to have to spend a considerable amount of time together on a balsa wood raft in the middle of an ocean (if that is they didn’t die from drowning or being eaten by sharks beforehand!)

The character of Herman is the least suitable for such a voyage. He wants an interesting life until he becomes scared witless onboard Kon-Tiki. He is certainly the one who possibly has the least faith in the venture. Brilliantly played by Anders Baasmo Christiansen who we more often see in comedic roles.

Jakob Oftebro (left) as Torstein Raby and Gustaf Skarsgård (right) as Bengt Danielsson in Kon-Tiki

Bengt Danielsson is the photographer for the voyage and the only Swede on board (as is Gustav Skarsgård in the cast). Bookish, endearing, enthusiastic it is his cinecamera that records (in black and white) the preparations ashore and incidents while they are on the raft. Again perfectly played and it’s always lovely to hear Gustav’s trademark giggle. There are some funny parts in this film and the “shark bait” used by Bengt is hilarious.

Erik Hesselberg is the only crew member with any experience at sea. He plays the guitar and we do hear him sing in Norwegian at one point. He is a steadying member of the team much needed for this voyage. Really sympathetically played by Odd-Magnus Williamson.

The other two members of the crew (we’ll come to the Captain himself next) are both war heroes. They are also both in charge of the vital radio contact for the vessel. Whilst Torstein Raaby (played by a ridiculously tanned and sun-bleached haired Jakob Oftebro) has a bit of a short-fuse at times he is always up for pretty much anything. He smiles a lot and smokes just as much. Knut Haugland is played wonderfully by Tobias Santelmann as a man with inner demons relating to what he did in the war and a very close connection with the ship’s parrot (every voyage should have one, right?) Knut proves himself to be a hero once again during this voyage, showing no hesitation to put his life on the line.

Tobias Santelmann as Knut Haugland in Kon-Tiki

In charge of this band of adventurers on board Kon-Tiki is Thor himself. Ah Thor, what can we say? Pål Sverre Hagen portrays him perfectly. Arrogant, stubborn, obsessive, courageous, foolhardy, never showing any doubts even in the direst of situations. Indefatigable! Generally, the men are unflinchingly loyal to him (despite their very reasonable doubts). This is a man who is willing to sacrifice everything, everyone, including himself to prove his theory. Not an easy man, nor one who can be unreservedly admired.

I just loved the use of the cine film segments in Kon-Tiki, it’s very effective visually to set a slightly different tone and is so evocative of the era (this harkens back once more to my childhood as my father had a cine camera and the cine films he shot were an integral part of my youth). The rest of the cinematography and effects are simply sublime. So many beautiful compositions and frames, underwater shots, aerials, close-ups. This film is frequently beautiful to look at and heightens emotions. The great music score combines with these visuals to create something special and you can see why it received so many accolades.

The raft itself becomes something of a character as well, as does the resident crab. There are many scenes that are hair raising and if you have a fear of sharks this is probably NOT the movie for you (just saying… there are a lot of shark moments in this!) There are three scenes in particular that I squealed out loud and others that made my toes crawl, not only the sharks but also storms and reefs.

The conclusion of Kon-Tiki with what each of these men and Thor’s wife, Liv, went on to do with their lives is really interesting and it does make you wonder what they might have done had they never encountered Thor Heyerdahl and his “crazy” theory.

Is Kon-Kiki worth watching? Oh my, yes, it certainly is! It makes the voyage itself feel so real, involving these men who we grow to care about. We see the strains and cracks in relationships when people are living in close quarters in very difficult conditions but also for those far away. Visually stunning, emotionally affecting, amazing characters and cast and some visceral action. Oh and the whole “crew” do become very tanned with sun-bleached hair, not just Jakob…
What more could you want?


12 wins and 14 nominations

Oscar Nominee Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (2013)
Golden Globes (2013) Best Foreign Language Film Nominee

Amanda Awards, Norway (2013) Best Actor ~ Pål Sverre Hagen; Best Production Design ~ Karl Júlíusson; Best Visual Effects ~ Arne Kaupang; Public Choice Award ~ Espen Sandberg & Joachim Rønning
Kosmorana, Trondheim International Film Festival (2013) Best Sound Design ~ Tormond Rignes & Baard H. Ingebretsen; Best Cinematography ~ Geir Hartly Andreassen; Best Music ~ Johan Söderqvist; Best Producer ~ Aage Aaberge; Best Production Design ~ Karl Júlíusson
Norwegian International Film Festival (2013) Audience Award
Palm Springs International Film Festival (2013) Directors to Watch ~ Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Transverse City Film Festival (2013) Founders Prize Special Award ~ Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg


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