5 Fascinating Facts About the “Kon-Tiki” Film

Kon-Tiki © Hanway Films/Nordisk Film Distribusjon
Image © Hanway Films/Nordisk Film Distribusjon

For months I’d been looking forward to a movie about a man named Thor — and I’m not talking about “The Avengers.” Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl became world-famous in 1947 after he and a five-man crew constructed a primitive raft called Kon-Tiki and floated it all the way from Peru to Polynesia. This was not simply a thrill-seeking stunt, but a demonstration of his theory that the ancient Polynesians could have migrated via ocean currents from South America. His subsequent bestselling book, The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Raft Across the South Sea, and documentary helped to spark an interest in Polynesia, contributing to the mid-century craze for tiki bars.

Directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning © Nordisk Film
Directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning © Nordisk Film

Fast forward several decades and now there is a new “Kon-Tiki” film, a dramatic adaptation directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning. Released in 2012, it’s the most expensive film Norway has ever made, though the $16 million budget is still less than 10 percent of the cost for a film like “Life of Pi.” I jumped at the chance to see “Kon-Tiki” when my boyfriend was invited to a screening, followed by a Q&A with the directors, screenwriter Petter Skavlan and actor Jakob Oftebro. They shared some fascinating stories about the production, and I’ve selected five of my favorite facts about this beautiful, intense and exciting film.

Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film
Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen as Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film

1) Writer Petter Skavlan had experience in sailing across oceans, which he said helped him capture the dynamic of people at sea for an extended time. It also gained him some cred with Thor Heyerdahl, with whom he worked on developing the story. The adventurer passed away in 2002, but he had signed off on the 21-page outline for the film.

Anders Baasmo Christiansen and Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film
Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen and Anders Baasmo Christiansen in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk

2) It is common movie magic for cities to stand in for others, but I thought it was funny that hardly any of the sites where the real events took place were used as filming locations. Rather, 1940s New York was a set in Bulgaria, Peru was actually Malta, and even some of the Norway scenes were instead shot in Sweden.

Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Jakob Oftebro, Odd Magnus Williamson and Tobias Santelmann in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film
Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film

3) We viewed the original version with Norwegian dialogue, but during filming they also did identical takes in English so the movie could have a wider release internationally. The Weinstein Company acquired the rights to distribute the film in the U.S. (and a few other countries), and the English language version opens in America on April 26, 2013.

Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film
Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film

4) In 2006, Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav was part of a crew that retraced the Kon-Tiki expedition on a newly constructed, similar raft called Tangaroa. And it was this very vessel that was used to re-create the Kon-Tiki in the film — fascinating to think that the raft you see actually made that same voyage. (Some day I hope to visit the original Kon-Tiki at The Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.)

Jakob Oftebro and Tobias Santelmann in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film
Jakob Oftebro and Tobias Santelmann in Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film

5) Joking that it’s a bit hard to tame sharks and crabs, they said the only real animal that appeared in the movie was the parrot. The others were part of the 500 or so special effect shots, which were so well done that you can’t even tell they’re CG animated.

Kon-Tiki © Hanway Films/Nordisk Film Distribusjon
Kon-Tiki © Hanway Films/Nordisk Film Distribusjon

“Kon-Tiki” is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, which is fitting as Thor Heyerdahl’s 1950 documentary “Kon-Tiki” won for Best Documentary — the only Oscar awarded to a Norwegian film thus far. I think you know who I’ll be rooting for this Sunday!

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“DVD of Tiki” Screening at the Egyptian Theatre
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D23 Presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives

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For the past several months, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley has been hosting Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, presented by D23. This exhibition is truly a must-visit for any Disney geek and it runs through April 30, 2013.

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For me, one of the most exciting displays was the three prop storybooks that open at the beginning of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White” and “Cinderella” to introduce each of the films. They’re so iconic, it was a thrill to see them in person.

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Also impressive was the re-creation of Walt’s formal office at the Burbank studios, including his actual desk and personal items like Norman Rockwell sketches of his daughters.

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According to the information card, songwriter Richard Sherman — co-composer of “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” with his brother Robert B. Sherman — would often play “Feed the Birds” (Walt’s favorite song from “Mary Poppins”) at that customized baby grand piano.

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Speaking of “Mary Poppins,” this traveling costume from the movie was featured in a section dedicated to Disney’s early live-action filmmaking. Apparently you can spot openings near the pockets where piano wires were attached to her suspension harness for the flying scenes.

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And then around the corner I was delighted to find the magician’s case of The Great Emelius Browne, along with the spell book, “Isle of Naboombu” book and bedknob from “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” (If you can’t make it out there to see this all for yourself, there’s a photo tour online of the entire exhibit.)

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A giant area downstairs presented props and costumes from more recent projects like “Alice in Wonderland,” “Tron,” “The Avengers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” such as this 23-foot-long special effects filming model of The Black Pearl.

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There were also things from the Disney theme parks, like the giant Maleficent dragon head originally used in Fantasmic, which caused a bit of a stir on our local streets and highways when it was transported to the museum.

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So what does all this have to do with tiki? Well, it was this automaton singing bird (manufactured by Bontems in France in the early 1900s) that inspired Walt to develop Audio-Animatronics, and the first attraction to feature that innovation was… the Enchanted Tiki Room. I actually first saw this item at the Walt Disney Archives at the Burbank studios, which are not open to the public unless you’re on a special tour. This temporary exhibit is a rare opportunity to see this interesting piece of tiki-related history.

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Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland
Sketches of Enchanted Tiki Room’s Jose at Disney Gallery
Article on Enchanted Tiki Room Imagineer Rolly Crump

Alphie’s Restaurant – Goleta, CA

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Even though I went to college just a few miles away from Alphie’s, I must admit I’d never heard of this restaurant until I read James Teitelbaum’s guide Tiki Road Trip.

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This family-run diner in Goleta, about a 15-minute drive north of Santa Barbara, has been around for decades (since 1957). It has a bit of a Polynesian look to it, starting with these Maori-style carvings around the door and surrounding the support beams inside.

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On the right when you first walk in there’s a counter that looks into the kitchen (note the giant tiki fork and spoon mounted on the wallpaper border). Maroon vinyl booths run the length of the dining room and there are also some round tables. In the back there’s another dining room with a large outrigger overhead and a live music setup. Apparently the owner plays a mean jazz organ.

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The walls are white, but most of them are half covered in lauhala matting trimmed with bamboo. They’re accented with tapa cloth, paddles and tikis that range from Asian imports to large, rough-looking carvings to Oceanic Arts wares.

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Probably the strangest (or most awesome, depending on your point of view) part of the decor is the arrangement of, uh, interesting wildlife photos.

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There is no lack of choices on the menu, from pancakes and cream cheese stuffed french toast to huevos rancheros to hamburgers and deli sandwiches. Some of the omelets and frittatas have Hawaiian names like Kahuna and Wahine, but the only island influence in the food seemed to be including linguica (Portuguese sausage) as a filling.

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I went for the Beachcomber ($8.25) — their version of eggs Benedict “smothered with our blended cheese sauce,” a description that was deliciously accurate. The “ranch cut potatoes” were a perfect vehicle for soaking up the extra sauce.

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Most of the egg dishes come with their famous biscuits and gravy, but mine did not so we ordered them as a side. I couldn’t help stuffing myself silly with all that tasty salty food.

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If you’re inspired to take a little detour off the 101, keep in mind this is a breakfast and lunch spot and it’s only open until 2 p.m. Early risers, on the other hand, will appreciate that they open their doors at 6 a.m. every day.

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Alphie’s is a good spot for greasy spoon grub that will help cure a hangover. You know, it really is too bad I didn’t know about this place back when I was at UC Santa Barbara…

Alphie’s
5725 Hollister Ave.
Goleta, CA 93117
805-683-1202

Related Posts:
Oceanic Arts Tiki Warehouse, Whittier
Bruddah’s Hawaiian Foods, Gardena
Blue Hawaiian Cupcakes at Yummy Cupcakes

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