Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kon-Tiki (2012)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film - Norway

There is little I appreciate more than a movie with a short running time.  With thousands of films still left to watch for my Every Oscar Ever project, coupled with my dwindling patience as I grow older, I get downright excitable any time I see a film length near 90 minutes.  Yet despite my initial glee at Kon-Tiki's lean running time, the film would have benefitted from enormously from taking greater time in telling the story of Thor Heyerdahl and his team's voyage on the Kon-Tiki.

The Kon-Tiki voyage is one of the great adventuring achievements of the 20th century, and whether or not Heyerdahl's hypothesis of Peruvians settling in Polynesia is correct - most agree that it is not - the adventure was an extraordinary achievement, captured in the 1950 Academy Award-winning documentary.  Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg's fictionalization of the voyage has some great moments, but the depiction of the voyage feels rushed, thus losing much of the inherent drama of the voyage.

After a few early scenes of Heyerdahl - played with great charm by Pal Sverre Hagen - first developing the idea of the Kon-Tiki and recruiting his team and raising funds, the rest of the movie is spent on the raft, and the filmmakers have done an excellent job depicting the close quarters of the raft and the effect that it had on the men.  The team faces a few obstacles - the near constant interest of sharks, uncooperative waves, and the absorption of water to name a few - but they deal with these challenges so quickly and expertly that they never feel significant enough.  Perhaps Heyerdahl's greatest strength was his unbending belief in himself and the voyage, but this lack of self-questioning serves to make him an underdeveloped character.  Because he never doubts he will succeed, the audience never really doubts he will succeed, and the challenges to the Kon-Tiki seem to be mere blips in the inevitable success of the voyage.

This is always a challenge in a historically-based film.  Did we ever doubt that they would make it back to Earth in Apollo 13 or that Lincoln would successfully shepherd the 13th Amendment of the Constitution to passage by the House of Representatives in Lincoln?  Even though we know the ultimate conclusion, expert storytelling can make the audience forget, even if only momentarily, the already known outcome of a story and feel real suspense.  Kon-Tiki falls short of this, and none of the obstacles create any real suspense.

The story of the Kon-Tiki is so thrilling that it's likely impossible to tell the story and not engender interest, and Kon-Tiki does not come anywhere close to challenging this assertion.  Despite the silliness of some of the made up elements of the film and the failure to create true suspense, there are far worse ways to spend less than two hours.

Remaining: 3123 films, 857 Oscars, 5346 nominations

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