Flatland and Sphereland Come to Animated Life

Flatland 2: Sphereland

One of my favorite math books is Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Originally published in 1884, Flatland was both a satire about Victorian society and an exploration of spatial dimensions—though most people remember it for the mathematical aspects. In 1960, Dionys Burger wrote a sequel of sorts titled Sphereland, which addressed non-Euclidean geometry and the idea of an expanding universe. It wasn’t quite as much of a social satire, though the characters with the new theories were considered crackpots by others.

I discovered only recently that both books had been made into films, produced by Seth Caplan. Flatland: The Movie was released in 2007, and Flatland 2: Sphereland was released in 2012. The animated short films have quite a cast: Kristen Bell, Tony Hale, Michael York, Danny Pudi, Danica McKellar, and Kate Mulgrew.

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The Squares at home with their granddaughter, Hex.

The movies follow the basic plot of the books, except that the Flatland of the movies is more of a modern-day society—by Sphereland there are scientists getting ready to explore space. In case you’re not familiar with the books, the basic idea is that there is a 2-dimensional world populated by geometric shapes. One particular square is visited by a sphere from the third dimension, who tries to explain this other direction: “up, but not north.” Along the way, the square also encounters a 0-dimensional world (Pointland) and a 1-dimensional world (Lineland), which help him to better understand the third dimension.

I’ve watched both of the films and they were a lot of fun to watch. The computer animation style might not please everyone, but for the most part it conveys the various worlds well. My only real complaint is that they’re both so short—under 40 minutes each. They cover the basic ideas of dimensionality and curved space, but skip over a lot of the explanation of the world of Flatland that Abbott provided. I would gladly have watched more.

You can watch the trailer for Sphereland below. Both films are available from the Flatland store either as DVDs or digital downloads. (Flatland: The Movie is also available from Amazon.) Educators also have the option of purchasing an educational edition which is licensed for school-wide use. It’s not cheap, but for geometry teachers this could make a great companion to the books.

And if you haven’t read Flatland yet, why not grab a copy? You can get it for the Kindle for free.

Disclosure: GeekDad received screeners of both films for review purposes.

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Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.