Roald Amundsen remains one of Norway’s greatest heroes, a polar explorer who brought pride and fame to a newly independent country at the turn of the 20th century. A new film about him premiered nationwide in Norway on Friday, but got off to rather poor start.
Norwegian critics have panned the film, calling it everything from “boring” to resembling “an illustrated Wikipedia article” because of how it crams in so many aspects of Amundsen’s life without going into any depth. Director Espen Sandberg, also behind full-length feature films on resistance hero Max Manus during World War II and famed Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, is accused of failing to focus and being more selective. Amundsen’s triumph of being first reach the South Pole is given just 20 minutes on the screen early in the film.
“After that, both the temperature and viewer’s engagement just goes down,” wrote Aftenposten’s Ingrid Åbergsjord, who gave the film just two stars out of a possible six. “The rest of the film is unbearably boring.” She also criticized how much of it involves other people in Amundsen’s life talking about him, “so Roald Amundsen at times isn’t allowed to be the main subject of his own film.”
The film has been promoted as a means of explaining how “an unknown man from poor Norway” could become such a famous polar explorer. It aims, according to promotional material sent out before its premiere, “to let us become acquainted with the man behind the icon, through extreme expeditions to incredible nature, his complicated romantic life and turbulent relations with his own brother.”
On Friday, just as the film was about to open, came news that the creators of the film may have used material from a biography of Amundsen without asking permission. The film, shot in Norway, Iceland and the Czech Republic, features conflicts between Amundsen and his brother Leon, who had helped finance and make Amundsen’s expeditions possible, and the many women in Amundsen’s life, information first revealed in the biography by historian Tor Bomann-Larsen.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on its early-morning newscasts Friday that major publishing firm Cappelen Damm was concerned that “some of the details in the film so closely resemble material that was made most known in Tor Bomann-Larsen’s biography that we must investigate how this happened,” Anette Slettbakk Garpestad of Cappelen Damm Agency told NRK. The firm manages content rights for the publishing company, and told NRK it was considering contacting a lawyer.
Garpestad said Cappelen Damm had earlier tried to contact the producers of the film, to learn more about their sources of information, without getting a satisfactory answer. Author Bomann-Larsen declined comment but Stig Andersen, who produced a documentary entitled Frosset hjerte (Frozen heart) that’s based on Bomann-Larsen’s biography, was invited to a pre-release showing of the film and reacted badly.
“I can’t understand that the filmmakers didn’t take contact with the man (Bomann-Larsen) who has written the most thorough biography and dug up information about two of Amundsen’s lovers and who brought the relation between the two brothers to light,” Andersen told NRK. He said there was no mention of the biography on the film’s credits.
Amundsen’s producer, Espen Horn of the company Motion Blur, confirmed to NRK that he was contacted by Cappelen Damm and claims he responded then the same as now: “Bomann-Larsen’s book is one of several books and documentaries we have read and seen while working on the script. I have great respect for the book, but we have not only used the book. If we don’t use a direct source for the script, there’s no reason to contact the source.” He added that “we wanted to make our independent version of Roald Amundsen.”
Bomann-Larsen was not invited to the showing of the film prior to its public release on Friday, Horn said, because it was “a private setting for family, friends and colleagues.” He said he “feels we have acted appropriately, but I’ll glady speak with both Bomann-Larsen and the publishing company,” he told NRK, which later reported a law professor’s assessment that facts are not protected as intellectual property, but there are limits to use of information extracted by others.
At least one man seemed impressed by the film, the grandson of Leon Amundsen, who lived in the shadow of his younger brother and national hero Roald. Johan Leon Amundsen, age 74, could now see his grandfather’s story told in the film, along with his grand-uncle’s.
“I was a bit overwhelmed, it was strong,” Amundsen told NRK. Roald Amundsen was often described as being arrogant, cold and unfeeling towards other people who helped make him a success. The two brothers eventually had a falling out over financial disagreements. Roald and his brother were not on speaking terms when Roald Amundsen disappeared and was presumed killed in 1928, at the age of 56, while taking part in an effort to rescue the airship Nobile out of the ice north of Svalbard.