Tuesday, December 27, 2011

41: Action, Drama, and Geometry Lessons

    You may recall that way back in episode 11, I reviewed a movie
called 'Flatland: The Film', an excellent film adaptation of Edwin
Abbott's 19th-century novel about a square-shaped being inhabiting a
two-dimensional world.  Somehow, 2007 has become the Year of the
Flatland Revival, with yet another Flatland film out now on DVD:
'Flatland: The Movie'.  Perhaps world events have been making people
more eager than usual to escape into other dimensions.  This film has
some serious star power, with Martin Sheen as the leading square,
Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars as his granddaughter, and Tony Hale
from Arrested Development as the King of Pointland.  But is it any
     My answer, in short, is yes.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and
highly recommend it.  Like the other Flatland movie, it follows the
basic elements of the novel, but tries to spend more time on plot and
less on description.  The main character is still the square, here
named Arthur Square, living in a two-dimensional world where nobody is
even aware there are other directions off their plane.  Adding an
element of social satire, the shapes with more sides are in control,
and the ones at the top are the infinite-sided circles.  The square
dreams about worlds of fewer dimensions, Pointland and Lineland, and
then is introduced to the third dimension by a wise sphere from above.
For trying to spread knowledge of the third dimension, he is arrested
and tried for heresy by his coutrymen.   There are a lot of cute
little animation touches, such as the Flatland skateboard ridden by
Arthur's granddaugher Hex, and the depiction of two-dimensional cars
and alarm clocks.  The movie also introduces some clever twists, such
as a rotating cube that was left intersecting with Flatland to help
teach of the third dimension.
    Flatland: The Movie is more focused towards educational audiences,
and is more suited for younger viewers than Flatland: The Film.  It's
only about 35 minutes long, probably done on purpose so a teacher can
show it during a class period.  And while there is talk of trials and
executions of errant Flatlanders, in this movie you won't get the
chance to see an actual polygon battle or stare at the dismembered
corpse of a hexagon.  They also go into some detailed explanations of
the concept of a dimension, again probably useful for younger or
educational viewers.  And in order to encourage interest among younger
girls, Hex, Arthur's granddaughter, plays a prominent role in the
    I do have a couple of nitpicks with how they chose to animate the
Flatlanders though.  First, one of the key properties of a
two-dimensional world should be that someone looking from above, like
the audience viewing the movie, can see completely inside the
creatures.  Thus internal organs should be visible, and external
appendages or body parts should look kind of like cross-sections,
since only the outer edges can interact with the world of Flatland.
Yet in this movie, the Flatlanders are mostly solid, with only a few
discolored blotches to suggest something is going on internally.  And
the eyes and mouths look distinctly like animations on three-
dimensional creatures, which would fit in more with The Simpsons than
with Flatland.
    The biggest missed opportunity, however, was a chance to teach a
lesson about rotation and symmetry.  If you look at a Flatland square
facing right, with its eye above its mouth, you will soon realize that
if you want to turn it facing left without lifting it out of its
plane, its eye will have to end up below the mouth on the left side.
In other words, a Flatlander is inherently "right-handed" or
"left-handed", and without a trip into the third dimension, this can
never be changed.  Yet in this movie, Flatlanders are somehow able to
turn around and always have their eye above their mouth, whether
facing right or left.  My wife came up with a good explanation for
this:  perhaps the Flatlanders are amoeba-like creatures with their
eyes and mouths floating around internally, and they can quickly float
to the proper side of the body as needed.  This seems a little
tortured though; I think they just oversimplified the animation.
    Of course, I'm sure each of these issues were compromises made to
minimize any danger of confusing the younger viewers.  And they don't
change the fact that Flatland: The Movie preserves the central spirit
of the novel, and presents it in a fun and entertaining way that I'm
sure any listener to this podcast would enjoy.  Since it's so short,
my suggestion is that you get both Flatland: The Movie and Flatland:
The Film, and invite all your friends over for a double feature.
That's assuming, of course, all your friends are as cool as Math
Mutation listeners, which may be a tall order.  But that's your
    And this has been your Math Mutation for today.

  • Flatland: The Movie
  • Flatland at Wikipedia
  • Flatland: The Complete Text, at Project Guttenburg
  • Flatland: The Film (reviewed in Math Mutation #11)
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