A 12-year-old cartographer secretly leaves his family's ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother and travels across the country on board a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute.
T.S. Spivet lives on a ranch in Montana with his mother who is obsessed with the morphology of beetles, his father (a cowboy born a hundred years too late) and his 14 year-old sister who dreams of becoming Miss America. T.S. is a 12 year-old prodigy with a passion for cartography and scientific inventions. One day, he receives an unexpected call from the Smithsonian museum telling him that he is the winner of the very prestigious Baird prize for his discovery of the perpetual motion machine and that he is invited to a reception in his honor where he is expected to give a speech. Without telling anyone, he sets out on a freight train across the U.S.A. to reach Washington DC. There is also Layton, the younger brother who died in an accident involving a firearm in the family's barn, which no one ever speaks of. T.S. was with him, measuring the scale of the gunshots for an experiment, and he doesn't understand what happened. Written by
Jean-Pierre Jeunet visually masterful take on Reif Larsen novel
Only a director with the creativity and imagination of Jean-Pierre Jeunet would attempt to bring to the big screen in English the best-selling novel by Reif Larsen "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet". The book, described by author Stephen King as a combination of "MarkTwain, Thomas Pynchon and Little Miss Sunshine", is illustrated with charts, lists, sketches and maps to help recount the adventures of the quirky, gifted 12-year-old boy of the book's title . Jeunet has faithfully reproduced the visual elements of the novel to recreate the offbeat world of T.S Spivet and the use of a 3D format is perfectly suited to breathing life into T.S.'s illustrations which Jeunet's does by drawing on his trademark mix of poetry and fantasy. But the plot does not lift from the page and the young boy's eventful journey seems flat and doggedly two-dimensional.
The adventure starts off promisingly enough. T.S.Spivet (Kyle Catlett) lives on a farm in the 'Big Sky Country' of Montana with his amateur entomologist mother (Helena Bonham Carter), his cowboy father (Callum Keith Rennie) and elder sister (Niamh Wilson). A phone call to the ranch from the prestigious Smithsonian Institute in Washington informs the young Spivet that he has won a prize for one of his inventions. Since the death of his twin brother in a shooting accident, Spivet's mother and father have sidelined the surviving son. Feeling neglected and un-loved, T.S. decides to travel on his own to Washington to accept his prize. The journey takes him across America on a freight train and into a series of encounters with a gallery of colourful characters.
While the scenes in Montana are a triumph to Jeunet's bold, sweeping breadth of vision, once Spivet hops on the train, the action, conversely begins to falter. The characters he meets could have come straight from a cartoon strip ageing sailor Two Clouds (Dominique Pinon) is a dead ringer for Popeye and they add little or nothing to the narrative or the tone of the film.
As the lead actor, Catlett carries a lot of responsibility for one so young. No one can deny he is as cute as a button with his oversized trousers and constant puzzled look but he lacks the range of emotions needed to create real empathy. This may explain why a film about grief remains oddly unmoving until a a scene towards the film's finale which seems unashamedly designed to pull the heart strings. This latest Jeunet is undoubtedly a glorious visual treat, but it lacks the magic and mystery of 'Amélie' his most successful film to date. I
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