Six-year-old Thor Heyerdahl knew he could do it. But his childhood pals weren't so certain.
"Thor, don't do it," they shouted. "It's dangerous."
The young Heyerdahl had his eye on a melting ice floe near his Norwegian home and was sure he could jump to it from shore. Heyerdahl took the leap, but lost his footing and slipped into the frigid waters. One of his friends rescued him from certain death. His father's warning:
"I hope you learned your lesson. Promise me you'll never take a risk like that again. Promise me. Thor? Promise me."
But the world now knows that Thor couldn't keep that promise. Three decades later--with the same friend who pulled him from the icy water and a crew of four other Scandinavian scallywags--Heyerdahl made a different promise: that he could sail 5,000 miles through the South Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made only of rope and balsa wood modeled after ancient drawings from the Incas. Heyerdahl tried to disprove conventional wisdom that Polynesia had been populated by way of Asia. Instead, he insisted that Polynesia's first inhabitants had come, via raft, from South America, and he would show how the Incas did just that.
The journey, chronicled in the runaway 1948 bestseller The Kon-Tiki Expedition, has now become a 21st century Oscar-nominated film. This summer's other big screen adventures--Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness--pale in comparison to Kon-Tiki's astonishment. This is one of those films where, 30-minutes in, you find yourself whispering to your companion, "I love this movie."
"We have a higher purpose than enabling men hell-bent on suicide," huffs a National Geographic executive, turning down sponsorship of Heyerdahl's expedition. But we know better, don't we? History tells us that National Geographic, The New York Times and the world media would soon enough be thrilled to cover Heyerdahl's expedition.
Kon-Tiki's co-directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, pull off quite an achievement of their own. Not only did they film the original 2012 Norwegian production--which was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film--but they used the exact same cast to shoot a simultaneous film entirely in English, thus making Kon-Tiki more accessible to American audiences.
Norwegian actor Pal Sverre Hagen portrays Heyerdahl as man, not a myth, struggling with inner demons (beginning with the fact that he can't swim), as well as demons of the deep (there is a shark scene that would make even Steven Spielberg shudder).
Heyerdahl's then-radical theory ultimately proved to the world that our planet's oceans were roadways, not obstacles. Today, his work is credited with bridging humankind's desire to explore uncharted worlds, from Columbus to the Space Age.
Kon-Tiki has an old-fashioned aura of adventure and bravery, and that's reason enough to attract an audience's attention. But embedded deep in Heyerdahl's amazing tale is a story we all share: journeying into darkness, tempting fate and setting sail for a new horizon.
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