FLATLAND (director: Ladd P. Ehlinger Jr.; screenwriters: Tom Whalen/from the book by Edwin Abbott; music: Mark Slater; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Karen Guelfo; Flatland Productions Inc.; 2007)
“Smart without being cheeky.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A welcome anti-dote to the usual ‘ignorance is bliss’ animations of recent times, where the CGI is it and the humor is merely cute asides on the pop culture scene. Indie filmmaker Ladd P. Ehlinger Jr. has come up with a most innovative satirical animation based on the 1884 sci-fi novella by Edwin Abbott. It’s brazenly original, mucho fun, masterfully designed and smart without being cheeky. Abbott’s supposedly playful book, which takes a poke at England’s rigid Victorian society by his play on geometric forms, has been popular with mathematicians and computer freaks (which I am neither, and I confess to not even knowing the book existed before seeing the film). But for a consummate film person like myself, who appreciates quality in any genre or form, Mr. Ehlinger does a grand job in bringing to life a book that might be impossible to film and somehow makes it into a spirited avant-garde film that shoots for, maybe, Michael Snow territory in bringing structural movement to film. While keeping Abbott’s jibes at Victorian arrogance intact the story is wisely updated to modern times, and for those with even the minimum “real politik” acumen should get a kick out of how the current worldly machinations are given voice in the animation. There’s a president who blindly wages war under some false pretext of the country being under threat and there’s a senator who sounds like that old liberal warhorse from Massachusetts, whose brother was once the president in the good ole days. For those tired of the same old stuff, here’s some fresh and tasty angles to bounce around in your head and see if it comes close to finding the essence of cinematic space–the filmmaker’s nirvana, if you will.
The main protagonist is a middle-class lawyer called A. Square, because that’s his shape, who is located in the two dimensional world (Flatland) and has a curious son called Hex, for short, in whom he tries to teach everything he knows about his limited two dimensional world. A. Square will be the narrator guide and take you through the implications of being in such a plain and rigid world (where the poorly shaped triangles are of the low class assigned to do the dirty work such as fight wars, those with irregular shapes are put through a “reconfiguration” process so they can fit into society with recognized shapes, while the circles are of the ruling class because of their perfect shape). A. Square radically changes after taking a case to defend a “Chromatist” rebel, a dude who believes that color should be included in one’s self-identity even though the evil circle president has ordered all Flatlanders to be colored white or else face the death penalty. When A. Square’s client commits suicide, he dreams about taking a trip to the one-dimensional world (Lineland) that’s made up of women who sway back and forth and sound a “peace-cry” as they walk. When Square finds it’s futile to converse with them about the second dimension, he then is visited by the three-dimensional Sphere –from the 3-D Spaceland. Unfortunately Square cannot understand this 3-D concept until he experiences it for himself in his dreams, which becomes a good way to learn for those with an open mind. A. Square soon has another dream of visiting Pointland (which comprises a self-aware point that occupies all space and knows nothing but itself) and finds to his chagrin that the point is so full of himself that he can’t be saved. Now that A. Square’s mind is open to higher dimensions, he’s inspired to teach others not to become too smug in their limited knowledge. Fearing for his safety when he’s accused of attempting to corrupt the Flatlanders with his wild ideas, A. Square tries to remain homebound but is hijacked by Sphere to the higher dimension of Spaceland where the same narrowness rules and he finds himself in great danger.
This just serves as a rough outline of what’s happening in Flatland; the enjoyment comes in all the surprises, the splashy animations and the running commentary on a multitude of modern problems, thoughts and visions.
What’s marvelous about this complexly structured film, that looks like a Pac-Man video game, is how there’s not a single thing about it that’s disingenuous or unworldly or superficial. It’s by a serious and gifted filmmaker who brings a light touch to his craft and does it without an ounce of pretentiousness or Hollywood phoniness or a sense of self-consciousness.
REVIEWED ON 3/12/2007 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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