Went to see the new movie, Kon Tiki, at the Palm theatre yesterday. I first read Thor Heyerdahl's book when I was a kid and was absolutely fascinated by it. It 'splained in great detail his amazing 1947 adventure of building a raft of massive balsa wood logs lashed together and sailing off with a small crew with hopes of reaching Polynesia. His years of ethnographic studies had convinced him that early Polynesia had been populated by ancient Peruvians who had sailed west. (Later DNA studies seemed to confirm that the journey was reversed, that early Native Americans came from Asia. At least that's the latest theory until some more bones turn up. But his raft trip certainly proved that floating from Peru to Polynesia was certainly doable.)
At any rate, his adventure was quite splendid in that wacky turn-of-the-century British (and Norwegian) Explorer Mode -- tramp off to the Hideous Places, suffer mightily doing it, plant a flag at your destination for king and country and adventure, all of it involving very, very tough men pitting themselves against a very, very dangerous, tough Mother Nature. In short, not an enterprise for wusses.
All of which was documented by Heyerdahl in his book and later in his 1951 Academy Award-winning documentary. This present film was an attempt at a "docu-drama" of that voyage. Unfortunately, a 90 minute movie, most of which takes place on a small drifting raft creates certain problems. Like, boredom. One damned, hot, flat, windless day after another, until it's broken up by . . . flying fish . . . or a visit by a massive, wondrous whale shark . . . or -- because it's a docu-drama -- some . . . DRAMA! Shark attacks! Storm at sea with lightening flashes! Crew members with "issues" getting all wussy and needy! Much staring out to sea! Much staring into the camera! All accompanied by a thunderous movie score that acts like a big aural fist dragging the audiences' beleaguered ears to the "Dramatic Moment! Dramatic Moment!"
Also missing was a good deal of 'splaining to the audience as to just how risky and carefully planned this enterprise was. For example, Heyerdahl comes off as some kind of dewey-eyed nincompoop in thrall to "Tiki" when he refuses to use steel wire to lash the logs together, instead of using the traditional, looser, softer ropes. This bit became a point of DRAMATIC conflict between him and his second in command, including the Grand Tossing Of The Rolls of Wire overboard. However, in real life there wasn't much drama about it. His sticking with rope wasn't because "Tiki" would be offended, but because the steel wire wouldn't allow the necessary "play" between the logs. Instead, it would have resulted in the logs being sawed into pieces by the unyielding wire, with all hands on board heading to Davey Jones Locker. Nothing spiritual about it. But, of course, that would have lacked DRAMA!
And it's all the "drama" that ultimately causes the film to go off the rails. It started with the macaw that somebody brings on board for the voyage. Dumb bird flies into the ocean and is eaten by a shark which causes one guy to go berserk, haul the shark up with his bare hands and start stabbing the thing to death with blood spattering all over the actors and pouring down between the logs thereby attracting more sharks OHMYGODDRAMA!MOREDRAMA! SHARKS! SHARKS! SHARKS!
Now, really. These men we all hard-headed guys. Practical fellows. Pragmatists on a survival/ endurance journey that required a close attention to detail. So, a macaw?? Really? On a raft filled with rope and bamboo and wood? Anybody know
anything about macaws? What they do to amuse themselves day after day?
With their sharp nut-cracking, tree-stripping, wood-chewing, balsa-wood-loving beaks?
Right. Stick with the book. Great read.