Original Review by Alan RogersThe Young and Prodigious TS Spivet

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first English language film since the fourth entry in the Alien franchise, Alien: Resurrection (1997). Based upon a best-selling illustrated novel by Reif Larsen, this present movie tells the story of the eponymous Spivet – a boy genius – who wins an award for inventing a perpetual motion machine from the prestigious Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.. Leaving his family behind in their Montana homestead, the boy sets off to collect his award, hitchhiking across the country, meeting various characters along the way and undergoes a personal journey as the details of an unspoken family tragedy are slowly revealed. Jeunet conjures up images of a past America; a world full of memorabilia and iconography. Reviews of the film itself have been mixed, with opinions ranging from the film being a celebration of Americana through to it being a pastiche. One aspect of the film that has had uniformly positive reviews has been Canadian musician Denis Sanacore’s inspired score.

Nominated as “Discovery of the Year” at the 2014 World Soundtrack Awards, Sanacore’s beautiful score for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is his first feature film. His score is heavily grounded in nostalgic Americana and the music is characterised by the use of a small ensemble of instruments with the acoustic guitar being the most prominent. Fiddle and additional strings (e.g., cello), percussion and harmonica all contribute in various combinations to create a melody-driven score, homely in feel and containing – what I would call – folk rather than country music influences. The opening track, “Eagle”, sets the tone of the score with a beautiful, lyrical theme played by guitar and fiddle that immediately gives a feeling of open prairies, sprawling homesteads and settled family life. This theme is a particularly prominent theme, being reprised at several points in the score, usually played by guitar and fiddle. Towards the end of the score though the theme is heard on piano and this lends the theme a very personal and intimate quality. After this opening track, Sanacore then gives us theme after theme, each one just as good as the one before. Each track is a self-contained statement of a theme rather than being a piece of music that closely follows the drama. This allows each melody to get a proper airing and to conclude in a satisfying manner. The presence of tracks for solo acoustic guitar are of particular interest. Heard in cues such as “Red River” and “To Each His Own Lucky Star”, stripping away the other instruments to leave the solo guitar actually adds to the power of the music, giving a more reflective tone compared with the other cues. The overall effect in this comparison is, I think, quite striking.

Other impressive moments in the score come when the composer quickens the pace. Hinted at in “Chicago Chase” but more fully realised in later tracks such as “On The Train”, “Red Light” and the excellent “Train Shuffle”, guitar and fiddle combine in a frenetic barn dance-type style, injecting energy and an exuberance that is very infectious and adds a sense of the Wild West to the mix. An increased tempo to the music is also heard in “Happiness”, but this time guitar and strings bring a more measured energy that gives the music a more personal feel: in “Happiness”, the music seems to reflect a quickening of the spirit rather than a physical quickening due to mechanical forces (e.g., “Train Shuffle”). Rounding out the album is an original song, “Here, Now and Then”, co-written and sung by the composer’s daughter, Léa.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a score that strongly rooted in the folk traditions of America. This phrase encompasses numerous genres of music and I am not expert enough to begin to dissect out the specific style of Sanacore’s music. In a way, using the broad phrase “traditional American folk music” mirrors the feel that the director gave to the film itself: a non-American (and perhaps stereo-typical) view of America. Regardless of what the music’s called, the music itself is beautiful to listen to. I couldn’t help but be lifted by the lovely themes due, in no small part, to the prominence given to guitar and fiddle (both played by the composer). Apparently, Jeunet was so impressed by the music Sanacore recorded in his living room (once the phone was taken off the hook and the dogs were muzzled apparently) that the director chose not to re-record the music for the film but used the original recordings. Although the majority of the score sounds great on the album, there are a couple of instances where this decision to use the original recordings does affect the quality of the recording. In a couple of places the various instruments don’t seem to be as clearly separated or distinct as they are elsewhere. The guitar and harmonica parts in “Radio Flyer”, for example, sound a bit too cramped, “a bit mono”. Nevertheless, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining album, recommended for those who enjoy attractive themes played with spirit. The composer’s website says that, since composing music for Jeunet’s film, Sanacore “…has developed a serious passion for film music. His desire is to pursue this fabulous journey”. On the strength of his music for this film, I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. Audio clips to The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet can be heard HERE, the album is available on Spotify and can be purchased as a digital download at many of the usual online digital stores.

Rating: *** ½

  1. Eagle (2:17)
  2. Coppertop (2:15)
  3. Red River (2:54)
  4. Nebraska (2:51)
  5. Goodbye Layton (1:45)
  6. To Each His Own Lucky Star (1:55)
  7. Chicago Chase (0:47)
  8. Two Clouds (2:19)
  9. Buffalo (1:04)
  10. On The Train (1:45)
  11. The Father’s Setting Room (2:17)
  12. Red Light (0:48)
  13. Happiness (2:51)
  14. Guitar Mood (1:20)
  15. Radio Flyer (3:13)
  16. Dr Clair’s Diary (2:39)
  17. Smithsonian Institute (1:13)
  18. End Credits (2:40)
  19. Tecumseh Elijah Spivet (3:43)
  20. The Jack O’Lanterns (2:12)
  21. View Master (1:05)
  22. The Echo of Myself (0:44)
  23. Train Shuffle (2:21)
  24. Here Now and Then (vocals by Léa Sanacore) (2:52)

Running Time: 50:00

Gaumont / Épithète Films (2014)

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