By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 10, 2013 at 5:02 PM

As it turns out, Ang Lee’s "Life of Pi" wasn’t the only recent Oscar nominee with its eyes set on the high seas. In the Best Foreign Film category (one of the bathroom break awards for most casual viewers), there was Norway’s "Kon-Tiki."

And while there might not be any disgruntled tigers in sight – we get sharks instead, equally unpleasant travel companions – the real-life journey of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his motley crew is just as beautiful and wondrous to behold. I guess there’s enough ocean in the world for two great waterlogged adventures.

We first meet Thor as a young boy, bounding across a pond of ice in the hopes of snagging a rusty saw. He falls in and snags a bad cold instead. His doctor and parents urge him to stop these risky endeavors, advice young Thor whole-heartedly ignores with a mischievous smile.

Several decades later, adult Thor (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) is off on another life-threatening expedition, though in a far warmer climate and on a far larger scale. He’s trying to prove his theory that Polynesians came on rafts from South America as opposed to the widely accepted thought that they migrated from the west.

After getting turned down by almost every scientific and geographic publication and journal, the fiercely determined Heyerdahl decides to come up with proof they can’t ignore: He’ll make the journey from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made of the same materials as his hypothetical ancient explorers.            

He assembles a small ragtag crew of fairly modest personalities – for instance, his first mate Herman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is an engineer/refrigerator salesman – and sets sail, with only his theory to deliver them safely back to land. And you thought that the Mythbusters were badasses.

The screenplay, written by Petter Skavlan with some help from veteran Allan Scott, throws all sorts of natural nightmares at our daring seafarers. A vicious storm knocks the ship around early on. A monstrous whale shark slowly creeps under the raft like a massive shadow, as well as some less friendly sharks, resulting in some of the most intense shark action this side of "Jaws." Bold words, I know, but it’s definitely stuff worthy of leaving several fingernail indents in the armrest.

As you’d expect from six guys spending months at a time isolated at sea, nerves and composures get tested as well. Thor’s confidence in his theory and borderline insane determination to make the journey without the help of any modern technology don’t help relations. There’s also the threat that the log raft will eventually come apart, leaving the sun-baked and bearded men on chunks of glorified driftwood.

Even with all of these little dramas popping up, "Kon-Tiki" isn’t a high-octane, full-force trip. Save for a mildly forced reef-filled finale, directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (both recently signed on to do the next "Pirates of the Caribbean") let the exciting moments and interactions play out naturally.

If things bubble over – either man versus man or man versus nature – they handle the action in visually stunning, pulse-pounding fashion. And if things don’t, well, then there’s just more time to enjoy the scenic adventure.

That’s really the joy of "Kon-Tiki," sitting back and allowing yourself to be enraptured by the seemingly limitless world and the blissful spirit of exploration vividly captured in gorgeous detail by Ronning and Sandberg. Even when tensions are high, an exhilarating and contagious sense of freedom fills the movie.

There’s a sequence near the final third where the camera gazes down on the crew, laying in a circle and looking up at the stars. The camera climbs higher and higher into the sky, turning them into a tiny speck in a wide ocean, then an even tinier speck on a massive planet and finally a microscopic speck in a galactic sea of stars and planets before diving back down to the water’s surface. It’s a showy moment, but one that’s also very magical, lifting me out of my seat while it lifted into space.

In the usual "based on a true story" postscript, the movie interestingly notes that Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki journey inspired the world again after the horrors of World War II (a shipmate’s troubled past in the war is hinted at various times throughout the trip). The world was big, exciting and new again. 65 years later, thanks to "Kon-Tiki," his tale has the same effect. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.