Kon-Tiki DVD

I finally got around to watching Kon-Tiki, prodded by the death of Thor Heyerdahl.

Heyerdahl published a theory in the 1940s that the Polynesian Islands were colonized by South Americans, rather than Asians. He was told that his theory was without merit, so he built a balsawood raft of the type that had been used on the western coast of South America centuries ago. He had noticed that the Humboldt Current ran north along the coast, then turned eastward near the equator, and that the trade winds also blew east.

Over the course of 101 days, Heyerdahl and his crew drifted with the winds and currents making about two knots (42.5 miles or 80 km per day). They lived on traditional stores (nuts, berries and dried fish) plus fresh fish and sharks and plankton they caught along the way, and one or two of the crew subsisted solely on U.S. Navy rations that were being tested on the trip. They took plenty of water with them, and this was supplemented by rainwater.

Upon reaching a deserted island they had proven that South Americans could very well have colonized the South Pacific. This fit well with South American myths about a great ruler called Tiki who sailed off with his followers over the western sea. Soon after landing, natives of a neighbouring island told him of their own legends of a ruler who came from the east. They immediately identified his raft, christened the Kon-Tiki, as the type of vessel that their legends said the ruler used. This validated his theory.

At the end of the film Heyerdahl (or the narrator, at any rate) said that while the voyage did not prove that South Americans colonized the South Pacific, it was certainly possible.

The DVD is very basic. There are no special features other than chapter selection. The photgraphy is often poor, but this is because the conditions were harsh. It does not detract from the film. One of the things I always wonder about is the cameras used. There was one good shot of Heyerdahl’s Bolex. I like Bolex cameras, so it was nice to see one being used in the filming.

The narration was pretty much what you’d expect from a documentary of the era. It didn’t go into very great detail about the theory, nor study in depth the anthropological aspects that would be seen in a documentary from, say, The Discovery Channel. But taken in context, it is very interesting for the limited story it tells. With a running time of less than an hour, there is not much room for “extras”. The titles of the film were obviously of new manufacture. The narration was so clean that it sounded like a re-dub of the original. Sound effects of creaking wood and splashing waves were often obvious. Was this a new addition? Documentaries of the time did use sound effects to add depth to the footage that was usually shot MOS.

Speaking of “extras”, I think the DVD would have been better if it had contained some. It would have been nice to have a new documentary included that would have given an overview of the voyage plus a study of Heyerdahl’s theory, with additional information that has been collected over the last half century. A tour of the Kon-Tiki museum would also have been good. And how about a biography of Heyerdahl? That would have been good. Remember that he made the trip in 1947. What had he been doing during the war? How did he find himself in the South Pacific ten years earlier, and how did he come to be adopted by a tribal chief? (This information is available on the web, of course. I just think it would be good to have it on the DVD.)

If you’re interested in exploration, this is a good DVD to have in spite of its lack of additional material. Next up: Reading the book.

Sorry about the nitpick, but if the Humbolt Current turned East near the equator, on the west side of the South American continent, wouldn’t it inundate Peru and Ecuador?

One of my favorite books is Aku-Aku, unfortunately now out of print. It is a wonderful story about Thor Heyerdahl’s archeological expedition in 1957 to Easter Island. He solved many mysteries, including a possible explanation about how the big statues were erected. I found out more about the culture than anyone had before or since. Well illustrated with beautiful photos, I highly recommend the book, if you can find it.

You are correct. I mis-typed.

Aku-Aku is another one of those books I’ve wanted to read, but never got around to. As I mentioned in another thread, I had a neighbour when I was a kid who made concrete Easter Island heads that were about five feet tall. I’ve always thought it would be fun to get the moulds so I could make some of my own; but I haven’t a place to keep the moulds, much less the statues.

His first book, where he spent his honeymoon on a tiny South Seas Island, is called Fatu-Hiva. Worth reading, if you are a Heyerdahl fan, and helps illustrate the origin of his ideas, but not nearly as interesting as Aku Aku.

R.I.P., Señor Kon-Tiki.