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By Daniel Lammin
8th March 2015

When it comes to whimsy and flights of fancy, there’s no one quite like French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With such classics as ‘City of Lost Children’ and ‘Amélie’, his very particular style, combining an almost gothic sensibility with boisterous humour, Jenuet had carved himself a distinct place in the cinema landscape. It was only a matter of time then until his eye would turn towards a children's fantasy, something he’d surprisingly never tackled before, and his first entry into the genre, as well as his first English-language film since his forgettable Alien sequel, is the wonderfully imaginative ‘The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet’.

T.S. Spite (Kyle Catlett) is a precocious 10-year old with a brain perfectly suited to problem solving and inventing. He lives with his oddball family on a ranch in Montana - his big-obsessed scientist mother (Helena Bonham Carter), his stern cowboy father (Callum Keith Rennie) and his drama-queen sister Gracie (Niamh Wilson). One day. T.S. gets an unexpected phone call from G.H. Jibsen (Judy Davis) at the Smithsonian Institute, informing him that one of his inventions has one a prestigious science award. The problem is, they don’t know that T.S. is still a kid. With his trusty scientific tools at hand, he begins an epic trek across country to collect his prize, meeting a colourful collection of characters along the way.


A spirited adaptation of the novel by Reif Larsen, ’T.S. Spivet’ has all the hallmarks of a family classic, albeit one with a wicked edge to it. Like the best family films, it has a comfortable balance of humour, drama and danger, and one that doesn’t talk down in the slightest to its audience. In fact, there’s a lot to suggest that children aren’t even Jeunet’s intended audience, with surprising moments of violence and course language, and a genuinely upsetting third act revelation. That said, the magic and whimsy of T.S.’s adventure still has plenty to offer to a young audience. Jeunet tackles the material with his usual flair, filling it to the brim with imaginative imagery, bizarre rhythms and editing, and wonderful animation based on the sketches in the margins of Larsen’s novel. T.S. has a very unusual view of the world, strictly practical and scientific, and Jeunet ensures that the film we’re watching is very much from his perspective. He also revels in the American West setting, taking full advantage in its iconography and textures. It does start to lag in the middle, when T.S,’s journey becomes a tad stagnant, and overall it’s a tad too long, but it saves itself with a bizarre and often hilarious finale.

The world of ’T.S. Spivet’ is populated by a terrific bunch of characters, all of whom are brought to life by this exceptional cast. Newcomer Kyle Catlett is a perfect fit for T.S., a little fella that totally grasps the pedantic and often detached qualities of his character. He’s also fearless in the face of the unusual situations he finds himself in. Helena Bonham Carter and Callum Keith Rennie have a surprising amount of chemistry as T.S.’s parents, and both have tremendous gentleness, so necessary in the craziness of the film. Judy Davis sits wonderfully on the other end of the spectrum, making Miss Jibsen the antithesis of those sitting at home on the ranch. Niamh Wilson is also a fantastic find, elevating Gracie from a forgettable stereotype to a vital supporting character.

It has a comfortable balance of humour, drama and danger, and one that doesn’t talk down in the slightest to its audience.

There’s a charm and irreverence to ‘The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet’ that instantly warms the heart and fires the imagination. It might not be firing on all cylinders in terms of action sequences and pop culture garbage, but its flights of fancy and enormous imagination set it apart from most films like it we see today. Jean-Pierre Jeunet continues to be one of the most exciting directors around, and this little gem of a film is one you’ll want to revisit again and again.

This Blu-ray release from Madman is generally pretty positive. The 1080p 2.35:1 transfer excels where it’s important, recreating the gorgeous colour palette of the film, but occasionally doesn’t hold up in terms of clarity, with blurring at points. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track has no such complaints, a robust track that balances the sound design with the dialogue, which with the intricate dialogue from T.S. in particular, is vitally important.

The disc also has the 3D version of the film, which I wasn’t able to review. While with most films this wouldn’t be much of a loss, Jeunet has clearly created the film for this format, so for once I’m disappointed I don’t have that 3D TV I keep thinking of getting. I suspect it will look absolutely spectacular.

There are only a small selection of special features on offer, clocking in at around 15 minutes, but for what they lack in length, they make up for in detail. The four featurettes cover the adaptation, the casting and the use of 3D, always with Jeunet and his team on hand to talk candidly and at length. It’s a pity there wasn’t more of it, but the material here is certainly worth checking out.

RELEASE DATE: 11/03/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 45m
CAST: Kyle Catlett
Helena Bonham Carter
Callum Keith Rennie
Judy Davis
Robert Maillet
Dominique Pinon
DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
WRITERS: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Guillaume Laurant
PRODUCERS: Frédéric Brillion
Gilles Legrand
SCORE: Denis Sanacore
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