Archive for January, 2010

04
Jan
10

It’s his way or the Norway

As the movie Avatar recently reminded us, there is little more inspiring than a super, super badass.  Colonel Miles Quaritch enjoys wielding guns, scowling, piloting giant robots, and not repairing his awesome scars with wimpy plastic surgery.  He looks like this:

Colonel Miles Quaritch: The Action Figure

Actual Photo

No doubt any movie would benefit from having such a character as part of its dramatis personae.  I think we can all agree that The Curious Case of Colonel Quaritch would have been both a critical and commercial success.

However, Quaritch pales in comparison to a real-life badass, a man whose very name inspires simultaneous shudders of ecstasy and terror: Knut Haugland.

Action figure available soon.

Unfortunately, we lost Haugland this past Christmas at the age of 92.  Even more unfortunately, I didn’t even know the man existed until today, when his obituary appeared in the New York Times (login required).  While reporter William Grimes already did a fine job tabulating Haugland’s impressive list of accomplishments, it’s clear that he also failed to imbue his article with an appropriate amount of flabbergastedness (or is it flabbergastronomy?).  After all, this is a guy who had enough real-life adventures for two Colonel Quariches, and with the assistance of neither CGI nor battlemechs.  I hope Grimes won’t mind me correcting his oversight.

1. Resistance Training

First of all, Haugland was a bona-fide, badass, undercover WWII commando.  While eking out an ordinary living as a worker at a radio factory in Nazi-occupied Norway, he secretly used his communications expertise to not only support but to help lead the resistance.  Although he had already fought the Nazis in a more traditional military setting, which I assume was also full of crazy badassery, I skip ahead to this period mainly because of the following events.  To quote the obituary (emphasis mine):

“Twice he was captured and escaped, once by back-flipping over a snow bank and running off into the woods before his guards could use their weapons.”

I repeat, he escaped the Nazis by doing a fucking back flip.  And in the very next sentence:

“A third time, surrounded by the Gestapo at a maternity hospital in Oslo where he had set up a transmitter in a chimney, he shot his way to freedom with a pistol.”

Shot his way to freedom out of a maternity hospital? I don’t know about you, but I’m picturing something exactly like this in every way:

More famously, he took part in an event known as The Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage, which involved a) paradropping into enemy territory, b) surviving in an isolated cabin for four months, without supplies, during the harsh Norwegian winter, c) MacGyvering a radio out of a car battery and fishing rods, and d) being a part of the team that blew up a Nazi hydro plant.  Apparently, people back the also thought this was pretty hardcore, as it was made into a 1965 movie, with the enticing tagline “COME FROZEN HELL OR HIGH ADVENTURE.”  I’ll take high adventure, please.

2. The Wrath of Kon-Tiki

After the war was over, one would think that even a badass like Haugland would have every reason to seek early retirement, light a nice fire in the hearth, pour a glass of scotch, put his feet up, and never take them down again.  However, this is not the story of an ordinary badass; let’s not forget that this unassuming Norwegian radioman was a super badass.  His next outing, only two years after the end of the war, was a little jaunt known as the Kon-Tiki Expedition.

I really wish more people these days had heard of the Kon-Tiki.  Basically, six crazy Scandinavians built a raft out of balsa wood and sailed it over four thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, because they could.  All right, to be more accurate, they made the voyage to prove that it could be done, on the theory that ancient South Americans might have been the original colonizers of the islands of the South Pacific.

The Kon Tiki

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...

The voyage took more than three months, included at least one spectacular rescue of a man overboard, and ended in a shipwreck that left the crew stranded on a remote island until they were rescued by a tribe of friendly natives.  Let me emphasize, as I did for Haugland’s wartime exploits, that this all happened in REAL LIFE.  Naturally, this adventure also became a movie – a documentary this time – that went on to win an Oscar.

***

So how does a Norwegian man with the nebbishy profession of radio expert and the dorky-sounding name Knut Haugland end up having so many adventures that they were fodder for two movies?  Obviously, my thesis holds: the man is a serious bad dude.  I can scarcely imagine what he would have accomplished if he had been, instead, a master of archery named John Rambo.

THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED BY NINJAS. ARE YOU A BAD ENOUGH DUDE TO RESCUE THE PRESIDENT?

Knut Haugland’s answer would definitely be “Ja.”

It’s clear that the world lost a great man last month, one whose sense of humility I haven’t even touched on, and whose fearless, brazen spirit I could never do justice.

I suggest we honor him in a way everyone can appreciate: a special-effects laden trilogy in which Haugland’s character discovers he can travel through time.  You take it from here, James Cameron.

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