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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kon-Tiki is a 2012 adaptation of the classic nonfiction adventure story by legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal. The movie doesn't shy away from the extreme peril Heyerdal and his crew faced when they crossed 5000 miles of the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia to prove that pre-Columbian South Americans could have conceivably been the first settlers of Polynesia. There are narrowly-avoided shark attacks, near-drownings, and a scene in which a shark is taken onto the raft, stabbed repeatedly and sliced open, resulting in lots of blood. The ship's parrot is killed by a shark. A young Heyerdal nearly drowns in a freezing lake after trying to impress his peers by hopping onto a thin block of ice to retrieve a saw. The inevitable tensions that arose amongst the Kon-Tiki crew are explored, as well as the derision Heyerdal faced from the scientific community. There's also regular cigarette smoking, and some alcohol drinking where the crew act drunk.
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What's the story?
During his research as an ethnographer and explorer, an elderly native of the island where Thor Heyerdal (Pal Sverre Hagen) and his wife have been conducting research for ten years tells him that it's the belief of his people that the very first settlers of Polynesia arrived not from regions west, but from the east. Intrigued, Heyerdal sets out to prove that it would indeed be possible for pre-Columbian South Americans from 1500 years ago to sail the 5000 miles from Peru to Polynesia. His theories are mocked and derided by the scientific and exploration communities, and so Heyerdal decides to prove his theories correct by constructing a raft using only the materials methods available to those who made that journey so long ago. He finds a way to secure funding for the project, and with the help of a motley assemblage of crew members -- including a frustrated engineer turned refrigerator salesman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) -- Heyerdal's raft, the KON-TIKI, sets sail. Once at sea, the crew of the Kon-Tiki must avoid sailing off-course into deadly ocean currents, dodge whales and sharks, and contend with the inevitable interpersonal conflicts that emerge when in close quarters on a raft made of balsa wood for 101 days.
Is it any good?
While overall a faithful recreation of the original nonfiction book, this movie manages to get some distance and dig deeper than the source material. While the classic book Kon-Tiki -- translated into dozens of languages with tens of millions of copies sold -- tends to focus on the immediate action, with some references to the difficulties faced with the endeavor beyond the 5000 mile journey from Peru to Polynesia, this adaptation reveals broader conflicts beyond the already daunting man-versus-nature story, including mockery from scientists, derision from fellow explorers, a worried family on the other side of the globe, and a crew of opposite characters driven to the brink by the extreme circumstances.
The result is a gripping adventure, brought to life through breathtaking camerawork and the sense in every aspect of the film's production that this was a labor of love and a tribute of sorts to both the story and to the men and women who made it happen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about adaptations. Not only was Kon-Tiki an adaptation of an international best-seller, but there's also been both an earlier movie as well as an award-winning documentary. What would be the challenges in presenting a contemporary film version of something that is a classic in different media?
How were conflicts such as man-versus-nature and man-versus-man explored?
Did the moments of violence seem necessary to the film's narrative, or did it seem sensationalized to add extra excitement to the movie?
- In theaters: May 8, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: May 16, 2017
- Cast: Pal Saverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustav Skarsgard
- Director: Joachim Ronning
- Studio: The Weinstein Company
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, History, Ocean Creatures
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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