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Norway/Sweden 1950
Directed by
Thor Heyerdahl
73 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Kon-Tiki (1950)

"Kon-Tiki" was the name of a tiny balsa-wood raft constructed by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his team in order to substantiate his thesis that pre-Columbian natives had regularly made trips wetward across the Pacific ocean in similar rafts.

To prove his theory Heyerdahl set sail in the Kon-Tiki in 1947, along with 5 fellow scientists and successfully completed  a 4300-mile journey from Peru to Tahiti.  It was a feat that captured the world’s attention at the time and it remains one of the iconic real-life adventures of the twentieth century.

This documentary, which won the 1951 Academy Award for Best Documentary, was filmed en route with 16-millimeter camera equipment and was originally released in Norwegian in tandem with the publication of Heyerdahl's book about the expedition. (The English-language version, narrated by sportscaster Ben Grauer, was prepared by producer Sol Lesser and distributed by RKO Radio).

It is, by today’s standards a very understated affair with neither narrative dramatics, pumped up editing, nor graphic enhancement. If anything the film is almost too casual in its telling of the remarkable and undeniably challenging crossing but this is also part of its charm, revealing a scholarly modesty, if not outright diffidence, that is characteristic of a time now long gone. For both reasons it will be a real treat for anyone old enough to remember the event and a breath of fresh air for newcomers.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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