Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Film: Flatland

Lowdown: A flat and narrow visioned world goes through quite a turmoil.
Review:
As a teenager, I read the science fiction book Flatland twice. It's not like I really liked the book; at the time I have found it boring. The first time I've read it was because of reviews saying it's a very important book, the second time was peer pressure. While I wasn't in love with it, I will admit this: Flatland is an important book; it's quite an eyeopener. Thus when I had learnt that Flatland - the film based on the book - is out, I sought to watch it.
If memory serves me right, this recently released (2007) animation film is pretty loyal to the book. It tells the story of a flat 2D world, called - surprise surprise - Flatland. It's a very class oriented world populated by living geometric shapes where the more sides your shape has, the more upper class you are (bear in mind the book was written in Victorian England). Thus, a pentagon is superior to a square and the square is superior to the triangle, while the circles represent the elite. Soldiers are dumb brutes represented by sharpish triangles that can pierce others with their sharp edge, but it is women who are the most lethal (as well as the dumbest): they are but a thick line, so potentially dangerous to others with the sharp edge of their line they have to issue siren like warnings to prevent others from colliding with them.
Our story follows a rather humanist square who finds himself trapped by circumstances. The circumstances are a war mongered by the heartless circles against a perceived enemy from the north that threatens the class system by changing their colors (thus preventing easy identification of the number of their shapes' sides) and also by avoiding the fixing of birth defects (which result in asymmetrical shapes).
Our hero is about to get killed when all hell breaks loose and the war is raging when, suddenly, he finds himself saved by a god like creature: a being from the third dimension, a sphere. He takes a tour of the 3D world and finds illumination, but all's not so well in that world either.
Flatland works on three different grounds that cooperate in synergy. For a start, you have yourself a parody about the class system: you have the subdued females, the supposedly inferior/superior beings - determined as such by virtue of birth alone, and a ruling class that will not stop at anything to preserve its power.
Then you got the mathematical theme of geometry. Like people of the past, you start on a 2D world (don't forget that for most of its history, humanity thought the world was flat). Flatland then exposes you to a 1D world for a bit and even to a 0D world, and then throws you to the 3D world. The side effect of this effort is that your apprehension of geometry and such is magnified to a much higher degree than school could have ever achieved, simply because of the presentation.
The third layer is the illumination: The passage from 0D to 1D to 2D to 3D (which happens to be the way we look at the world) demonstrates just how ignorant and narrow visioned those lower D's could be. Then again, if they are so ignorant, maybe we are just as ignorant ourselves in the eyes of 4D beings? Maybe we should open our eyes and think outside the square (pun intended)?
Sounds good so far, but there are problems in Flatland. The main one is that just like the book, I have found it all to be on the boring side of things. Some of the subplots are irrelevant (like the affection 2D beings have to glowing stuff, for example), and in general things progress rather slowly.
Worse, progression of the plot is achieved mainly through captions thrown in between scenes as well as in the middle of scenes, which try to tell you / guide you on what is happening / what is about to happen. I didn't like the voice-over in the cinematic version of Blade Runner but I have to say it's nothing compared to these captions: they're way too frequent, they try to be smart (as in using Shrek like language), and they just end up feeling like a pain in the @ss.
You can say some positive stuff about the design of the worlds and the computer animation used to make the film. It's all cleverly done, but the way it looks could also drive you crazy; Flatland's look reminded me of the old Atari 2600 style graphics.
Best scenes: I liked the presentation of the 0D world the most, a point size world whose resident think he's the king of the world and that there's no one else in the world but him. Strangely enough, this line of thinking applies to many people I know (including yours truly, and way too often).
Overall: Nice idea, but a bit of a boring and tedious execution. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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