Sunday 26 April 2015

Mighty Thor

The Blackstairs Film Society is the high-point of our social and cultural life in the remote section of rural Ireland which we inhabit.  On the last Saturday of every Winter month September through April, we get to see a film with subtitles!  They can be earnest like The Seven Brave Tractor Drivers of the Caucasus or classics like Babette's Feast but they are rarely the fluffy rom-coms that I prefer.  Since I had to hide behind the sofa as a nipper for most episodes of Doctor Who, I have a very low threshold for suspense or frighty-bits.

Last night at the Film Soc was the newish biopic from Norway called Kon-Tiki. Trailer. I zipped through the book shortly after I learned to read at age 8 and thought it was a ripping yarn. We had far fewer books back then, but nevertheless it would be hard to avoid it after being translated into 70 languages and selling 50 million copies. So I was surprised to find that there were adults in the room who had never read the book and only had a hazy idea of what it was about.  It is, after all, nearly 70 years since Thor Heyerdahl and his pals sailed across the ocean blue and lots of other adventures have happened since. It took the Norwegians just over 100 days to drift 8000km on a balsa-wood raft [R] from Peru to Polynesia and, to be frank, not a lot happened on most of those days. You can't fill 100 minutes of Aspiring-to-an-Oscar with 6 half-clothed well-bearded hunks eating tomato soup and picking flying fish off the deck, so the demands for drama concentrated on the few dramatic encounters - even with these, nobody died, although their pet parrot fell of the boat and was scarfed up by a shark.  Hollywood required this event to be conflated with another in which one of the men fell overboard from the relentlessly drifting, can't-turn-back raft.  Having one of his quick-reacting colleagues seize a line, plunge in and swim away from the ship back towards his disappearing ship-mate was dramatic enough without having to invent some stage-sharks in a feeding frenzy.  Then there was a big storm; they were outpaced by some fin-whales Balaenoptera physalus; they saw some unworldly phosphorescent creatures; they were excited at seeing a gull because that indicated the presence of land beyond the horizon  . . . and suddenly we are all crash landing on a reef at Raroia.  To string that out to an hour and a half you have to have a lot of lead-in with Heyerdahl growing up adventurous, spending some years in a tropical paradise, and some years being laughed at by people whom he asked for financial support.

One of the imperatives for Heyerdahl was to keep the adventure in the public eye and the only way to do that was a vacuum-tube short-wave radio.  Even as they were getting wet in the Pacific, Shockley, Brattain and Bardeen were inventing the transistor at Bell Labs in NYC and transistor radios didn't become widely available until 1955.  They needed an aerial to transmit and receive signal and the Kon-Tiki was low-slung with stubby mast, so they flew a balloon aloft to raise the aerial sufficiently high.  In the film, the balloon is lost because of the antic of the parrot (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Avian award).  I'll have to go back to read the book to see if this too was a simplification of events for dramatic effect . . . then again maybe I won't bother - I'm not 10 any more and I've still got the whole of Harry Potter to get through.

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