GREG RAY: Hopes for Kon-Tiki movie  

The Kon Tiki in 1947 on its voyage across the Pacific Ocean. THOR HEYERDAHL

MARGARET and David have given the Kon-Tiki movie three-and-a-half stars.

Sounds all right, but I don’t know if I want to go see it.

Because my memory of the book, while admittedly a bit hazy after a lot of years, is still pretty resonant. I’d hate to have that ruined, if I don’t like the film.

But then again, if it recaptured some of the exhilaration I felt when I first read Thor Heyerdahl’s incredible book, it would probably be worth the risk.

Kon-Tiki was one of those books that just gripped my imagination, as it gripped the imagination of the world when it appeared.

Most people, I guess, are familiar with the plot of the true-life yarn, but if you’ve never read the book you ought to put it on your list.

Heyerdahl had been fascinated by Polynesia for a long time. As a young man, with his wife Liv, Heyerdahl took the amazing step of leaving civilisation to go “back to nature” on the Pacific island of Fatu Hiva.

It proved to be an education, with the hardships of life on a “tropical paradise” much greater than he’d imagined. He and Liv saw how local people were ravaged by malnutrition and its ailments, and watched in horror as a village was decimated by influenza imported from a copra boat.

Civilisation had many redeeming features, after all, the couple learnt.

When Heyerdahl saw giant stone statues in the forests of the island that closely resembled some seen and illustrated by other people in South America, his mind went into overdrive.

He became obsessed with the theory that Polynesia may have been colonised in the dim past from South America.

But when he tried to share his theory, many established academics wrote him off, which prompted him to attempt the voyage, simply to show it would have been possible.

So he and some other Scandinavians went to South America in 1947, lashed some balsa logs together and hopped aboard to see where they’d end up. The raft design came from some very old drawings by Spanish invaders of Peru, and Heyerdahl insisted that no nails, spikes or wire be used in the construction.

As Heyerdahl had hoped and predicted, they wound up bumping into the islands of Polynesia after 101 days afloat, proving the feasibility his theory to his own satisfaction, if not necessarily everybody else’s.

But it was the journey, not the anthropological musings, that captured the world’s imagination.

I remember reading his book with astonishment at his audacity and boldness. Then I searched for his other books and read them, one by one. The others didn’t make such an impact, except Aku Aku, his wonderful Easter Island book, in which he explains to my complete satisfaction the “mystery” of the huge statues there.

Unlike some academics, Heyerdahl adopted the technique of winning the trust of the island locals and asking them patiently to share their old stories and traditions.

When he was given the folklore account of how the statues “walked” from the quarry to their final locations – and how their funny hats were put on – he asked for a demonstration and one was duly given.

After Aku Aku, I found the other fantastic book about the original Kon-Tiki expedition by Heyerdahl’s raft-mate Erik Hesselberg. Kon-Tiki and I is an illustrated version, much shorter, with hand-written text and lovely, quirky drawings, intended for young readers.

I’d like, some day, to watch the 1990 BBC series – Kon-Tiki Man – that covered the whole Heyerdahl saga, from Fatu Hiva and Kon-Tiki to the Ra and Tigris reed boat expeditions of later years.

In the meantime I have the book of the series, which is so comprehensive and readable that it probably makes ownership of most of Heyerdahl’s own works (except for Kon-Tiki and Aku Aku) unnecessary.

Kon-Tiki is a great, great story. I hope the movie measures up.