I'm sure that once upon a time I must have viewed the original documentary of Thor Heyerdahl's epic 1947 journey, which won an Oscar in 1951, but if I did, it has long faded from my memory. This film is the lightly fictionalised version of the same undertaking, which became Norway's most expensive movie to date. It too was Oscar-nominated, but it was not a winner.
It's a perfectly passable entertainment, lovingly photographed with a few thrilling moments with sharks, whales, and men overboard, but it's mostly concentrated on the tedium and frustrations of the endeavour. Then again when one has six men on a small balsa-wood raft for a total of 101 days, there is going to be a limit to the excitement versus the daily boredom and petty squabbles. Heyerdahl was living with his wife in Polynesia when he developed the fixed idea that the area had been settled by Peruvian Inca tribesmen who sailed the Pacific, using the prevailing currents, to reach land. This theory was at complete variance with the accepted version that Polynesia was settled by Asians.
Heyerdahl fruitlessly attempted to raise funding for his project of recreating the 5000-odd mile crossing from Peru using only materials available 1500 years ago and was laughed out of court by all of the experts. Eventually having gathered his crew -- two war heroes, an engineer who was currently selling refrigerators, an ethnographer who confided that documentaries can make money, and only one man with any actual seafaring experience -- the President of Peru finally twisted some arms and the fanciful project was underway. It is probably well worth noting that despite having lived in a tropical paradise for many years, Heyerdahl himself did not know how to swim.
The actor portraying Heyerdahl was tall and handsome and unswerving in his belief that he and his theory were infallible. Even when lives were in danger and the raft in perilous condition, he refused to use any modern materials to reinforce it. From his crew he demanded unquestioning obedience and faith. Four of the five were not well-differentiated, and since by the end of the movie they had all grown bushy blonde beards, they seemed pretty interchangeable. The exception was Herman the fridge salesman who was treated as a bit of a clown and something of a liability -- although I understand that this portrayal was grossly unfair to the actual historic person. It wasn't helped by my recognizing the actor as the one who played the chubby sex-addict Benedick in three series of the droll Norwegian serial "Dag".
After so many days living in cramped conditions and not knowing whether survival was a real option, the men were overjoyed to sight land in Indonesia. Heyerdahl had finally managed to prove that his hypothesis was possible 1500 ago, but of course he could never prove that this is in fact how Polynesia was settled. His account of the journey published in 70 languages and the prize-winning documentary (for which he takes sole credit despite the help of the more experienced ethnographer) brought him lasting fame, even if it was at the cost of his wife and family. It remains one of the great feats of modern times -- or a great folly from a determined hothead.
Finally I am grateful that I was able to view the film in Norwegian with English only used sparsely when appropriate, whereas the Weinstein Company insisted on releasing the movie Stateside in a dubbed English version. Dumb!