CAPSULE: This is a film about life in a world of two dimensions and the discovery of a higher dimension. The second adaptation this year of Edwin Abbott's FLATLAND is visually impressive, but somewhat simplifies the satirical concepts of the original story and shortens it as well. Mathematical concepts are clearly and plainly explained. The educational edition includes the text of the book and an interview with a professor of mathematics discussing the concepts. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
It is a feast or a famine. The first film adaptation of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was in 1953. It took 52 years for another film adaptation to come along, and then there were three in one year. It went much the same way with FLATLAND, with two film adaptations being released this year. As a fan of both mathematics and science fiction one of my favorite books has been Edwin Abbott Abbott's FLATLAND: A ROMANCE OF MANY DIMENSIONS, which has been adapted into both FLATLAND: THE FILM and FLATLAND: THE MOVIE. (Technically there were two other minor film versions prior to this year, but I have never run into them and would have liked to see them.) A few months ago I reviewed Ladd Ehlinger Jr.'s adaptation, known as FLATLAND or FLATLAND: THE FILM. Now a second and fairly different version has been released directed by Jeffrey Travis. From still shots you might almost think they were the same movies (and when one web site published my review of FLATLAND: THE FILM they used a still from FLATLAND: THE MOVIE). Now I am pleased to have had the opportunity to see both films.
A. Square, who is, well, a square lives in a two-dimensional world whose inhabitants are all polygons. The book cleverly details how they live and a little of the politics, satirizing English politics of the time. The main character A. Square then discovers that there are one-dimensional and even zero- dimensional worlds. As a two-dimensional person he can understand one and two-dimensional worlds. But then a sphere visits him from a third spatial dimension. To him it is mind-boggling that a three-dimensional world could even exist. He visits the world and brings back word of its existence.
FLATLAND: THE MOVIE is aimed much more at a teenage audience, possibly to be used in mathematics classes, while FLATLAND: THE FILM is more a family film. FLATLAND: THE MOVIE is shorter, about 34 minutes long, while FLATLAND: THE FILM is actually a short feature length at 95 minutes. (Just to help keep it straight MOVIE is the shorter version and FILM is the longer version I reviewed previously.) The shorter film has familiar actors voicing roles with Martin Sheen and his brother Joe Estevez, voicing A. Square and his brother. Spherius, the sphere from another universe, is voiced by Michael York. Film, Broadway, and TV veteran Kristen Bell pays A. Square's foster daughter Hex.
Immediately the purist fans of the book will ask if the daughter's name is Hex, doesn't that imply she is a hexagon? (Yes.) In the book females of Flatland were not really polygons but just very, very narrow triangles. If she is a hexagon does that mean that women in this versions are more than narrow triangles? (Yes, again.) Some liberties have indeed been taken with the Abbott text. Women are full polygons and do not have shrill voices. FLATLAND: THE FILM was more accurate to the book. Both versions deviate from the original story, though FLATLAND: THE MOVIE takes greater liberties and also somewhat simplifies the story to fit in its shorter runtime. On the other hand and perhaps more importantly the script takes pains to describe the mathematics in simple terms. That makes this version more appropriate for classroom presentation. The intent of this version is clearly to make the film mathematically informative while the other version is more an entertainment with political satire updated from Abbott's time.
The script co-authored by Seth Caplan, Dano Johnson, and director Jeffrey Travis has several witty touches. The politics of the satire may be better geared to Galileo's time than our own with A. Square persecuted for his new advanced knowledge. Visually also, FLATLAND: THE MOVIE takes a few liberties with the book. Polygons get colors and are decorated in fractal patterns, not explained. In the book, colors were specifically forbidden to polygons, though there are some advocates of "chromatism." This film has a great deal of complex dimensional animation in the three-dimensional world. There are, in fact, a lot of nice mathematical touches that are not explained at all or are explained by a mathematician specializing in geometry, Professor Thomas Banchoff of Brown University, in the interviews of the educational edition.
The Educational Edition of the DVD comes complete with interviews with the major actors and with Dr. Banchoff. It also includes the complete text of Abbott's book. I was a weird kid in school, loving both science fiction and mathematics, and I would have loved seeing this film then. It still is enjoyable. This version seems more pointedly educational than the FLATLAND: THE FILM, but is perhaps less of an entertainment experience. I believe that the two are not really competitive with each other since they are aimed at different audiences. And I greatly enjoyed both films. FLATLAND: THE MOVIE I rate a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0814106/combined
The novel on-line (illustrated) is at http://www.geom.uiuc.edu/~banchoff/Flatland/ or plain text at http://tinyurl.com/245roq.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper