At the heart of the Pacific experience is the Polynesian Triangle, with the Hawaiian archipelago at its peak. Far to the southeast corner is Easter Island, and equally far to the southwest is New Zealand. Because Hawaii stands uniquely as the 50th star on the flag of the United States, far out into the Pacific, it gets its own page (at right). I will concentrate here on the islands at the southern end of the Polynesian Triangle. This area has been governed mostly by the French since the mid 1800s and even the events of World War II did little to change that.
One way to get a quick overview of this aggregate of small islands amidst vast stretches of open ocean is to take a bus tour from Honolulu to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the far side of O’ahu. An Epcot-style theme park built by the Mormon Church, it features encapsulated samples of the music, dance, crafts and customs of the indigenous cultures within the loose boundaries of Polynesia. There are simulated “villages” inhabited by citizens of Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, the Marquesas, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji (just outside the Triangle). There are as well exhibits on Easter Island and the routes of the Pacific canoe migrations.
On a business visit to this park, I made an exercise of collecting suggestions in the villages for films that best told the story of each of the island nations represented here. Most often mentioned was the epic film adapted from James Michener’s novel, Hawaii – actually, it took two films to cover this very long book. Then there were three major movies on the historical Mutiny on the Bounty, set largely in and around Tahiti.
Easter Island gets a major movie called Rapa Nui. Though it is little known, it is the only Hollywood movie that focuses entirely on pre-contact Polynesian experience. There are several films set in New Zealand but there is no epic that traces its history from the time of Polynesian settlement only about 800 years ago. Whale Rider, set against the backdrop of Maori legend, comes closest. Most of the films recommended to me were about Hawaii, or Tahiti and Samoa.