The Young And Prodigious TS Spivet was an instant success as a book – with a 12-year-old mini-genius telling a tale of his cross-country adventure to pick up a scientific award told with digressions, subplots, marginalia and footnotes.
Such a multi-dimensional hyper-reality is a feast to set before director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who made Amelie such a break-out, warm and whimsical hit in 2001.
Here, the director uses his eye for suffused colour to make the best use of the wild Montana plains as TS travels by freight train, encountering more strange characters and more tall tales on his way to the Smithsonian.
And the director deploys 3D well, with TS’s maps, thoughts, diagrams, popping out the screen like an old school View Master Stereoscope.
The Spivets are eccentrics. His mother (a brilliant Helena Bonham Carter), is an entomologist, forever skewering beetles (and killing toasters); his father still lives the life of a cowboy. His sister is a typical truculent teen, all spiky melodrama and stormings-out.
His daredevil brother Layton… well, the apple of his father’s eye died in a shooting accident involving TS but no-one ever talks about him even though his absence is the biggest presence on their remote ranch.
Where this witty and clever film goes wrong – and it is a disappointment rather than a calamity – is the curious change of tone in the end-reel when TS (Kyle Catlett) is feted in Washington DC; once there, the film becomes a media satire on the cult of celebrity, so far from its origins as a wonderful magical family fable.
Throughout Jeunet wrestles uncomfortably with what to keep from the novel, and what to dump. In the end, he takes the path of least resistance.