Customer Reviews: Flatland: The Movie
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on April 8, 2008
This review covers both versions of "Flatland" released in 2007, one by Ladd Ehlinger, Jr. with a mostly unknown voice cast, and the other by Jeffrey Travis with some Hollywood big names providing the voices.

The source material for both is the 1884 novella by Edwin A. Abbott, but the approaches of the two films differ radically. The book is a staple of science fiction, and one of the few to address mathematical issues at its core. Being a product of its time, the book is technically naive, and politically incorrect based on current sensibilities.

The Travis film is visually slicker, but significantly shorter, and tackles philosophical issues relative to the passage of time from initial publication. As such, it tampers with the plot to mixed effect. Unlike some others, I have no problem with some of the revisions to the underlying plot since they do help bring some of the book's major issues into somewhat sharper focus. On the other hand, they also add a "feel good" and politically correct sensibility that seems out of place.

The Ehlinger film is much truer to its source material, which is both a strength and a weakness. Given a current perspective, its 19th century depiction of the political and social subjugation of women is a distraction that the Travis film avoids. It's also a longer film and could have been more effective with some of the same plot and editing license employed in the Travis film. Where it does tamper with the plot, some of the decisions are questionable as other reviewers have pointed out.

So which is better? In my opinion, the short answer is the Ehlinger film. Despite its length, political incorrectness, and technical inferiority (the animation of the Travis film is much more sophisticated), it resonates at a technical level to a degree that the Travis film can't match. As a scientist, this means a lot to me. On the other hand, the Travis film resonates on an emotional level that the Ehlinger film can't match. So the answer may be whether you're looking for technical insight or emotional satisfaction.

Most jarring in the Travis film is that, unlike the Ehlinger film, the animators never quite caught on to the implications of a two-dimensional universe. It is filled with objects which are instantly recognizable to us, yet would be clearly impossible or meaningless in the film's reality (e.g. the protagonist's daughter has toys which only make sense to someone with a 3-D perspective, and how does he open his briefcase?). The cover art is an obvious first impression example. The Travis film's characters look more human, but ask yourself how their eyes work. One detail of the book is that looking at a Flatlander from above, all of his internal organs are clearly visible, as they should be. Travis' animators hint at this, but don't meet it head-on. The Ehlinger film's animators may not have had the resources to make as slick a film as Travis', but they obviously gave a great deal of thought to what they were doing (or maybe not, since the necessary designs were all in the book). In short, Travis had the budget, but Ehlinger had the passion for the project - albeit perhaps a bit too much respect for the source to create a truly superior adaptation.

The differences reflect different target audiences, though. The Travis film is an educational short film which was obviously meant to be viewed by classrooms of middle school and high school students. As such, it had to be socially inoffensive while conveying concepts of geometry that would never occur to non-mathematicians. That it includes recognizable names voicing the characters will help it grab a bit more attention - an educational short film for the "X-Files" generation. The Ehlinger film would mostly appeal to people with a college level interest in mathematics, or others who are already familiar with the book.

Neither film is perfect, but I'm giving the Ehlinger film a rating of 4 and the Travis film a rating of 3. Depending on your sensibilities, your conclusion may be exactly opposite of mine, so I hope this review includes enough information to guide you to an informed selection.

Or, like me, you could simply buy both... ;-)
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on August 21, 2008
"The book of nature is written in mathematics."

-- Galileo

From Euclid forward, mathematicians have kind of served as reality's accountants alterting us to mathematical truths and their impact on the lives we live.

That's why when a lifelong mathematician like Edwin Abbott Abbott takes the time to sit down and write book in parable form about a basic mathematical's probably worth our time to sit down and read it.

In Abbott's 1884 classic masterpiece Flatlands, Abbott told the story of A Square...a resident of Flatland who comes to discover the existence of the third dimension. For those who haven't yet read the book, I would recommend Ian Stewart's brilliant Flatland Annotated in which Stewart (himself a lifelong mathematician) verbatim goes through Abbott's book annotating it along the way with helpful explanatory tidbits and information. In some cases, Stewart's annotations explain Abbott's points in terms of the basic mathematics or history. In other cases, Stewart provides information about the development of mathematical theory since Flatlands was written.

In one line of developments, for example, Euclid's fifth postulate is overturned and in another the idea that any one mathematical system can find all mathematical truth is iself overturned...both significant findings. For more on these developments or other interesting math issues, you can turn to Stewart's follow up Flatterland, the Dover publications treatment on Mathematical Fallacies and Paradoxes or even the highly readable Choas, Coincidence and All that Math Jazz.

But for those not interested in reading but simple and quick exposition on the issues raised by Flatland, I would suggest this movie. For one thing, it slowly goes over the issues involved. The graphics are just wonderful. And for that matter so is the voice work by such notables as Martin Sheen and Michael York.

If like me this movie picks your curiosity please consider reading the following titles by way of follow up: The Fourth Dimension by Charles Hinton, The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained, Flatland Annotated, Flatterland, Sphereland, The Plainiverse, and finally Michio Kaku's Hyperspace. In so doing you'll discover that our world is more strange and fantastic than you ever thought and like A Square, you might just find yourself looking one dimension higher!
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on January 10, 2010
I'm a high school math teacher, and for the past couple years I have shown my students this movie whether they were in a lower-level or Honors-level class. Regardless of age or skill, they have absolutely loved it. Watching and discussing the movie is consistently among their favorite memories of our class. More importantly, their curiosity about tesseracts (fourth-dimensional analogs of a cube) and string theory (which hypothesizes eleven dimensions) extends well beyond the classroom.

When I began teaching, the only popular movie about math was Donald in Mathmagic Land, a Disney film from 1959 featuring Donald Duck. As enduring as that movie has been, I can say from experience it doesn't connect as well with modern students.

Flatland: The Movie doesn't have that problem.

There are a few notable differences from the book, which should be expected when trying to condense all the original material into a half-hour production aimed at children. Women are no longer the lesser of the sexes (they are polygons just like the men; one woman even serves as a boss), and the main character, now named Arthur Square, is given a granddaughter (appropriately named "Hex").

The differences here, though, don't hurt the movie. If anything, students who enjoyed the movie were enthusiastic about reading the book.

This should be required viewing for any twenty-first century math teacher.
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on October 27, 2007
As an elementary teacher, I was impressed at how the filmmakers tell this story in a way that it is visually appealing and engaging for children, while at the same time thought provoking for adults.
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on July 16, 2007
I've been teaching geometry for high school for 10 years and I've always loved having the class read Flatland. Some of the kids get lost in the language of the time and the political/sexism satire. But I love the look in their eyes when they start thinking about other dimensions. So when I heard there was a movie version, I couldn't wait to get it. I first watched it at home with my own kids, 6 and 10. They were mesmerized by the wonderful animation the entire time - the characters feel so alive you want to visit Flatland and check out all the props and sets that fly by in the movie. The animators took certain liberties with Abbott's story and world, but they added even more things that increased my enjoyment. There's so much in the book, I'm glad they mainly focused on the dimensional ideas while dropping in references to ideas from the book (irregular shapes & racism, the class system, edicts of the Circle priests, etc). My kids loved it at home (sparking lots of conversation and some new geometrical drawings for the fridge), and my summer school class loved it just as much. I had them read the book as usual, but as a treat we watched the movie. I think it really helped them connect any gaps in their understanding by creating real characters they could relate to. I'm really glad there's a female protagonist in Hex, the granddaughter to the square. It's different from the book obviously but to see the girls in my class connect with a curious, empowered heroine was worth it in my opinion. And the voice talent was top notch. I love Michael York as the Sphere and Martin Sheen as the Square! And there are some great jokes with Lineland and Pointland too. All in all, don't just take my word for it. Check out Flatland: the Movie for yourself if you want a teaching tool that students will want to see more than once.
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on April 23, 2016
I have not seen the earlier movie but this movie was really amazing. Short and crisp and my 6-yo son was so moved by the idea of the Hex being so brave and fighting the phony circles. Besides, the society aspect, even the geometrical concept was so clearly depicted that younger kids can immediately understand. My son instantly searched for the 4D tesseract that they showed at the end of the movie, picked up paper, pencil and colors to draw his own imaginative shapes!! Guess the movie had a great positive impact on my kid, which means that the movie was really amazing! :)
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on August 2, 2016
Flatland is a journey through space (literally) that you can take with your young ones or students to teach them about Geometric concepts. Geometry class can get a little boring if you focus on just theorems and proofs. However, delving into conversations about theoretical Geometry can be a difficult thing to start with young people. Flatland can help! It is a witty, engaging, and informative story that is full of interesting Geometric ideas. Instead of explaining to views that the dimensions represent a point, line, shape, and 3-D objects--like we learned in HS--it explains the dimensions in a way that shows how they build on each other to make the next.

My students (high school math) love this movie! They were so angry that we didn't get to watch the last few minutes. It was great for review and got them really thinking about the connection between the dimensions. They also really wondered what the 4th dimension might look like!
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on July 30, 2014
In terms of content, this video deserves a 5 because ...
- The video is engaging and full of subtle mathematical humor.
- It affords a plethora of opportunities to talk about important math.
- I imagine students would really enjoy the video and even have mathematical questions.
- The run time is perfect for a classroom: 36 minutes

HOWEVER: This version is NOT licensed for use in the classroom. This is explicitly stated in the extras: showing this version of the video in the classroom is a direct violation of the license, as this is a personal version only. To purchase a version licensed for classroom, educators need to purchase the version directly from the Flatland website ( The classroom edition includes teaching notes and worksheets and costs $150.

I purchased this for use in my classroom, unaware this would be a licensing issue. I'm disappointed - not so much in Amazon as in the producers of this video, although Amazon's description does not include this very, very important information for educators.

Since, I cannot use this video as intended, my overall rating is a 3.

from a math teacher (middle and high school)
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on January 10, 2013
My husband died in 2010 and to this day, I struggle with hope about the afterlife and seeing him again. I bought the movie for my grandson to help him understand more about how it's possible for us ............not to understand another dimension and how God and heaven could be there but we would not understand it. My grandson loved the movie and listened to it many times. I watched it twice and it gave me hope also.
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on January 17, 2012
This was a great movie. As an adult, it helps you grasp the fascinating concept of different dimensions. My husband and I were both impressed with it. But you know what was the coolest of all?? Our daughter, who recently turned 5-years old, was thoroughly EXCITED by this movie. Obviously, she didn't understand much of the dialog, but she was definitely grasping the visuals. She asks tons of questions during each viewing and, at her first viewing, it was clear that hundreds of new neurological pathways opened up for her. Definitely worthwhile.
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