Release Date: 13th June 2014
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Dominique Pinon
[This review is based on a 3D screening]
The World Cup has arrived, and it’s likely this weekend that you’re either going to be in the throes of a football related ecstasy, or plotting various ways in which to run screaming in the other direction. If you’re part of the latter group, then thankfully there’s always the comforting solace of the cinema. With a mouthful of a title and little to no pre-release buzz, it seems like T.S. Spivet has become the victim of World Cup “counter-programming”, which is a shame as it has more than its fair share of charm. It might not be perfect, but French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet returns to Hollywood after 17 years to bring us a visually inventive and vibrant family film.
Based on Reif Larson’s best-selling novel The Selected works of T.S. Spivet, our title character is a 12 year old genius that lives with his oddball family on a ranch in Montana. After successfully inventing a perpetual motion machine, T.S. is invited to Washington DC to receive the prestigious Baird award, however due to his age he finds himself unable to attend without his family finding out. Escaping during the night, he leaves them a letter and jumps on a freight train which leads him on a cross-county journey from the idyllic prairies to the big city.
It’s not hard to see why Jeunet was attracted to T.S. Spivet: an obsessive attention to detail with an artistic flair and insatiable curiosity for all things weird and wonderful, Spivet is also reminiscent of other Jeunet characters such as Amelie. The combination of naivety and self belief that have come to define such characters is on display here, and he’s brought to life thanks to a solid performance from newcomer Kyle Gatlett.
However the stand out here is undeniably the 3D cinematography; never have the American prairies come to life so vividly as they have here. Every frame is bursting with colour and detail, which the format often notoriously obliterates. Drawings come to life and inventions fly at the screen without feeling gimmicky or contrived. There has clearly been a lot of care and attention paid to making this work as a 3D film, and it pays off extremely well; it’s probably the most accomplished use of 3D since Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.
This is still undeniably Jeunet, however; his acting partner-in-crime Dominique Pinon even appears for a cameo as a bearded American hobo (with a very dodgy accent). As breathtakingly gorgeous as it is, the story often lacks the emotional punch which it is searching for. Jeunet has often been criticised for style over substance, and those same critics will most likely find nothing new here. However it’s hard to dislike a film which has clearly been a labour of love, and it has an inter-generational appeal that will please both parents and kids alike. Lets just hope it finds its intended audience.