THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET Movie Review – A 3D Adventure From Amelie’s Director
For many cinephiles of a certain age, Amelie was a major gateway into foreign cinema. The celebrated French movie provided young film lovers across the globe with a window into what foreign cinema could do. It showed us of a whole new world where stories could be told with a boldness, imagination and creativity that often gets lost in the Hollywood conveyer belt – a system that is too frequently concerned with box office return and award season prospects. Its legacy proves that too. The film is still considered not only one of the greatest foreign movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period.
From the same mind that gave us Amelie, writer and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, comes The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet. A loose adaptation of the novel by Reif Larsen, it tells the story of a gifted 10-year-old scientist — the eponymous T.S. Spivet (The Following‘s Kyle Catlett) — living on a ranch in Middle America. He takes his scientific prowess from his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) but is very much disconnected from his father (Callum Keith Rennie), a modern day cowboy with whom his twin brother had far more in common – at least until his death in a tragic accident some years ago.
When we are introduced to him, T.S. Spivet has sent his blueprints for a perpetual motion machine — the Holy Grail for many scientists — to the Smithsonian museum and research complex in Washington, DC. They are stunned by his work and invite him to accept an award at a gala evening. Leading them to believe he is an adult, Spivet agrees to attend. He packs his bags and runs away from the unhappy home to travel across the country and claim his prize.
The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet takes on the form of a family-friendly road movie for the majority of its duration – albeit one that is infused with Jeunet’s eccentric and comedic touches. It recounts the journey Spivet takes in search of a place where he will be accepted, but simultaneously pulled back by the memories of the family he is leaving behind. It captures his interactions with various unusual people he meets along the way who all have an impact on the young hero – be it wisdom to impart or life lessons to teach. The American landscape (which was, in fact, filmed almost entirely in Canada) provides a lush backdrop for his travels.
As anyone who has experienced a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie will know, The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet is just as much about the form as it is the content. And here, T.S. Spivet’s journey is captured with a blend of fantasy and reality. Spivet’s run from home, for instance, is illustrated with mathematic equations that show how many steps it will take to reach the nearest train station. He also converses with his deceased brother about his innermost feelings of guilt and belonging. Jeunet does his very best to make us see the world through the hero’s unique eyes throughout. But sometimes it does feel like overkill, the blend of fantasy and reality leaning too heavily on the former. The quirks often become overbearing on the narrative, rather than serving to assist it.
What saves the film though is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s inventive use of 3D. It ranks alongside Gravity, Hugo and Life Of Pi (which Jeunet spent many years of his life working on before Ang Lee eventually took over) as one of the finest examples of the technology to date. Not only does he employ it well in a visual sense, but it helps emphasise the surreal and eccentric mind of T.S. Spivet too. Seeing it in any other format would surely lessen the The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet’s emotional impact just as much as its aesthetic one.