This year, two films were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in two different categories, but are almost the exact same film. In Best Motion Picture of the Year there was Life of Pi about a man on a raft at sea; while in Best Foreign Language Film we had the Norwegian Kon-Tiki, about a man on a raft at sea. Life of Pi featured a supporting cast of CGI-rendered characters whereas Kon-Tiki is given live-action characters that really existed. Now, you can take the voyage at home in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on August 27.
Kon-Tiki is the tale of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen), who sets off on a 4,300 mile trek across the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947, to prove that Polynesia was actually settled by Peru. While met with rejection from even the National Geographic Society, he meets engineer/fridge salesman, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiensen), who agrees to set off with Thor on his adventure.
They are joined by Erik Hesselberg (Odd-Magnus Williamson), Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann), Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro), and ethnographer Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård). Together they set off on their journey to prove Thor’s theory. Meanwhile, back in Lillehammer, Thor’s wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) must deal with her husband’s obsession, even it means that their children might not have a father in the next 100 days.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg deliver their own Life of Pi sized thrills in Kon-Tiki, even if The Weinstein Company decided to hack out 20 minutes of run time. While you may not notice it’s gone, those missing minutes certainly have an effect on the tone of the end of the film. Both the U.S. theatrical release and the original Oscar-nominated Norwegian version are available on the same disc. I suppose if you had to pick one for time, the shorter version will still get you to the same place in the end, however, you’ll be missing out on the emotional pull the film originally had in its Norwegian release.
Hagen doesn’t really bring as much depth to Thor as he could have, as he sort of comes off like Sharlto Copley’s Wikus character in District 9. This makes him one of the least interesting characters which defeats the film’s purpose since this is his story. The supporting cast is who really deliver the goods. After sitting through the film twice within days, I can say that the directors have made a rock solid film in that it races by even with one version still fresh in your mind.
And there’s a sad scene at the end involving a note Thor reads from his wife he was given by Bengt. The annoying thing about the American cut is that we see him give Thor the letter, but it’s never read. In this case, they should have cut the letter altogether. Now, watchers of the American release will want to know what’s in the letter and will have to watch the movie again to find out. I suggest watching the original Norwegian release to begin with because it’s far more emotionally satisfying.
Kon-Tiki splashes onto Blu-ray framed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is an amazing transfer delivered by Starz/Anchor Bay. Considering how much water is in the film, I can’t believe there was no banding to speak of. Same goes for the skyline and horizon. It could have been quite a nightmare, but thankfully, none is found. There was also no noise to speak of, although it comes close in one early scene. But instead of the picture being noisy, it appears more grainy, probably due to the film having been filmed digitally, then printed in 35 mm. Detail is exquisite, being a crashing wave, the skin of a shark, or pores on the actors faces. There’s also no crush or aliasing either. And the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is completely engulfing in both the American and Norwegian tracks. You always feel like you’re right there on the raft with the crew and the LFE is unrelenting in a few sequences. English subtitles have also been included.
In the special feature “Kon-Tiki: The Incredible True Story,” hosted by Maria Menounos, Matt Lauer chimes in to show us what a fanboy he is of Thor’s true story, having been given Thor’s book by his father. The special feature also centers on the making of the film and explains how producer Jeremy Thomas had wanted to make the film since 1996, showing that the film was actually made on the open water. Also included is a 9-minute “Visual Effects Featurette,” set to the film’s score by Johan Söderqvist, which shows scenes going from their finished version being stripped down of effects.
Similarities between Kon-Tiki and Life of Pi are scattered throughout — flying fish, sharks, whales, glowing sea creatures — but thankfully the biggest thing they share is a sense of adventure and characters lost at sea with only the human spirit to guide them. If you want something a little less fantastical than Life of Pi — and not stuffed with religious symbolism — then Kon-Tiki is definitely worth a purchase or rental with the fantastic video and audio making it even more worthy.
Cover art and photos courtesy Stars/Anchor Bay