Rapa Nui is the only movie that has ever been filmed about the civilization that once populated Easter Island. It was filmed in 1994, directed by Kevin Reynolds, produced by Kevin Costner, and starred by Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales and Sandrine Holt.

rapa nui movie
© Warner Bros.

The main plot revolves around a love story between Nora (Jason Scott Lee) and Ramana (Sandrine Holt), who belong to the two rival tribes that once lived on the island, the Long Ears and the Short Ears. The Short Ears were the working class, and they built the moai while being ordered by the Long Ears, who held the power. Only the members of the Long Ear tribe had the right to participate in the annual competition that determined who would be named the new Birdman, and therefore would govern the island for a year.




Nora, one of the contenders, falls in love with Ramana, a girl belonging to the Short Ear tribe. But this love can only triumph if he wins the competition and if she agrees to spend several moons locked within a cave.

The story tells a very summarized version of the collapse of the collapse of civilization on Easter Island. It shows the food scarcity and the massive cutting of trees for the construction and transportation of moai from the Rano Raraku quarry to their corresponding ahus.

There are many inexact details in the movie. For example, scenes from various historical periods are mixed together. The construction of moai took place long before the Tangata Manu cult and the Birdman competition. And the possible conflict between the Long Ear and Short Ear tribes, which seems to be true, took place before the Tangata Manu competition started being celebrated. Though you can’t really judge the Hollywood producers that harshly, because, after all, the documented history of Easter Island is based purely on theories and hypothesis, because no one knows what really happened.

Despite the million-dollar investment, the movie was a huge commercial flop and was virtually unnoticed. Many believe that it didn’t receive the box office recognition it deserved because it dared to deal with an unusual theme, such as the belief of legends and myths of a tribe that only looks out for its own interests, oppresses the working class and also destroys the environment. It’s contrary to the usual message of the “good savage” that lives at peace with nature. It should serve us as a way to reflect on the possible ecological catastrophe being caused by our current tribe.

The most noteworthy aspect of the movie is the excellent photography that features Easter Island’s spectacular natural scenery, recreating the atmosphere and villages and the way of life of the tribes including the entire process of carving and transportation of the statues.

The best scene of the film is during theBird Man Competition. It’s a thrilling sequence in which contestants risk their lives going down the crater of the Rano Kau volcano, swimming on their poras to the islets (motus) and dodging sharks to collect the first manutara egg.

We also shouldn’t forget the opening of the film and the soundtrack signed by Stewart Coppeland, drummer and founder of The Police.

Those who have been to the island will recognize all of the landscapes. The Birdman Competition is filmed where it formerly took place, in Orongo on the Rano Kau crater. The cave where Ramana is enclosed is “the cave of virgins”, located on the foothills of the Poike volcano. You could also recognize the Ana Kai Tangata cave where Ramana’s father builds the canoe in which the protagonists escape.

For the island’s visitors, you can see the film in the Manavai Hotel, situated on Te Pito O Te Nua Street. It’s usually projected several times a week.




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