If you're a wee tyke growing up in 1920s Norway, ice-fishing and snowshoeing to your heart's content, chances are you've never learned to swim.
Which is why Thor Heyerdahl, now a restless soul of 33, was determined not to fall off of his balsawood raft - bobbing on the Pacific somewhere between Peru and Polynesia. In Kon-Tiki, a stirring and cinematic dramatization of the famed voyage taken by the Norse adventurer, the mighty Thor demonstrates what snooty ethnographers and National Geographic editors of his day refused to believe - that it was possible for pre-Columbians in South America to climb atop large, tethered logs, push off from shore and make for the islands and atolls of the South Pacific, some 4,700 nautical miles to the west.
No one believed it, but Heyerdahl (played with Aryan ardor by Pål Sverre Hagen) knew it to be true. And so, in 1947, accompanied by five able-bodied gents (a couple of experienced sailors, an engineer, a scientist, someone handy with a radio) and a pet parrot, the explorer leaves port to prove that some 1,500 years earlier, Peruvian natives took the same trip.
Those Easter Island statues? Suspiciously Inca, don't you think?
Directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, Kon-Tiki is a widescreen man-against-nature epic, beautifully shot and boasting seamless, stunning visual effects. The Kon-Tiki (named after the Inca sun god) gets tossed and turned by frightening storms, and poked and prodded by giant sharks. As the days roll by, supplies run low and the balsa begins to rot in the saltwater. Fear creeps in. But thanks to a bestselling book and an Oscar-winning documentary, most of the world already knows how things turn out.
Shot in both English and Norwegian versions (the latter was a best foreign language Oscar nominee), Kon-Tiki is a movie-making triumph about a man who triumphs over the elements, over academe, and over his own doubts and dread.
Not a bad trip.
Kon-Tiki *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg. With Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen and Gustaf Skarsgård. Distributed by The Weinstein Company.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Steven_Rea. Read his blog, On Movies Online, at www.inquirer.com/onmovies