Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review of Flatland and Archon Defender

There's a large number of people praising independent animated features, but the 3D computer animated ones haven't gotten much attention. There's no excuse on Archcon Defender, which is available to watch for free right on YouTube.

A few notes before I begin. There's a new development of pixels which will likely undermine my idea of the computer being a color pinscreen.
There's a better article in Science News Magazine, but that's the best I could find on the web. It uses shapes other than squares to more effectively portray people's faces, and I suspect it could end up being used along with 2D computer drawing in some way. Time will tell.

Onto Flatland the film.

Flatland is based on a book by Edwin A. Abbot, directed and written by Ladd P. Ehlinger Jr. In the midst of conflict in Flatland, a land of flat shapes and lines, A Square is a defense lawyer caught up in an escalating conflict between shapes which do and don't have color, who gets whisked up into the Land of 3d by A Sphere, which is involved in a similar conflict to Flatland which lies below.

The film begins in Flatland, beginning with the politics of shapes. Males are two dimensional, and females are line segments in reference to the Victorian society satirized in the orginal book. The more angles a shape has, the better its social position, triangles being the social bottom, and circles being pinnacles of wisdom. A Sphere, who supports a family of shapes, is involved in a drama over certain shapes from a foreign country, Chromatists, having more color, and spreading their influence locally. Many of these shapes believe in a third dimension, but not A Square, until he's contacted by A Sphere who shows him Flatland from above and sends him into the Land of 3D. The Land of 3D is involved in a similar struggle, a 4th dimension substituted for a third, and there's the additional conflict over Flatland which the higher forms feel should be demolished.

Where the film gets interesting is when A Square dreams and visits a 1 dimensional lineland in a dream but none of the resident points on a line believes that he has two dimensions. Later in the film, as political controversy in Flatland picks up, he has an extradimensional encounter with A Sphere and gets to look on the controversy of Flatland from a three dimensional point of view as he's taken above Flatland. The transition from flatland to the land of 3D makes A Square a much more interesting character because he's no longer jammed into the same plane. The characters in The Land of 3D, as it turns out, are no wiser in their dimension than the Flatlanders are in theirs. There's disbelief over higher dimensions in each one of these arenas, and inherent disrespect for those who live in the lower ones.

The movie is filled with interesting contrasts. A Square, while in the land of 3D, is able to warn A Sphere of their foolishness against those who believe in a fourth dimension, but when he gets back to Flatland, he's unable to relate 3D to the native Flatlanders. There's a theme here of the inability of individuals to cope in their respective environments of differing complexities. You have to be better than the environment you live in. Then there's the ideological warnings that we shouldn't force our beliefs in others in a larger social context.

The film is a bit slow at the start, and picks up once the action gets going towards Flatland. The ending is a bit too incoherent, and detracts from the film a fair bit, but it's still quite good on the whole. The director's self conscious title cards in the Flatland sequences will likely turn off some viewers.

Archcon Defender is a very unusual independent film, directed by David T. Krupicz, an independent animator from Canada who also made some earlier lego films. Visually, it's quite simple, but manages to make beautiful use of its low budget. Dialogue-wise, the characters aren't very interesting, and the film is in the awkward position where the characterization depends on cliched dialogue to advance the characterization with the monotone computer(or computerish) voices. The amazing thing about the movie is how well it works even though the characters are so utterly lifeless. It keeps the movie somewhat interesting, but at the same time disallows it from being truly effective. Visually, it's slightly the same way. It benefits from it's computer toybox look, but its inexpressive characters don't get in the way as much as the voices.

It's a very cheesy fantasy plot, about a girl, Collete who's evacuated from a country due to her role in a supernatural war. She's taken to a country, Archcon, along with others like her, to be safe from the attacks from the kingdom of Echelon. She has magical powers and there's a magical shard, which she has magical powers from, which she learns during spiritual sessions with a priest. Corny stock material, but the director has a knack for this sort of thing that few others do. And it makes up for it by showing both sides of the story, characters on both sides of the war. The film blends 3D and 2D well, and it has a surprisingly successful low budget aesthetic. Unfortunately though, it's difficult to watch because you have to supply the character's motivations in your head as the voices of the characters don't quite work. The action scenes are very good, and the effects keep them from being monotonous.

It's the atmosphere which makes this movie. Krupicz has an uncanny ability to make cheap movies with atmosphere that higher budget films can't manage. And as cheesy as the plot is, it's unfortunately more complex than just about any similar plot in mainstream computer animation. The film is unified, largely it seems, due to Krupicz's work in every department, but ultimately it falls apart near the end because the plot just isn't interesting enough to get past the inexpressive characters.

I recommend Flatland the Film openly. Archcon Defender is free, so if you want to check it out, realizing it's an acquired taste, go ahead. I'd seen these films too long before writing these reviews, so I had to refresh a bit. A bit discombobulated, which I'll have to work on.

The next post will be about similarities between Russian and Japanese animation.


Elchinodepelocrespo said...

I saw "Flatland" a couple of days ago and I enjoyed it. A very clever, highly illustrative, unpretentious film.

Saw "We are the strange" too. Don´t know what to think. Some brilliants moment but...

GW said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Flatland. I'd never managed to finish We Are the Strange, which I think has some good ideas but tries a bit too hard to be bizarre, much like Tamala 2010.

Frank Forte said...

I just found your blog. very cool! I started a Blog about HB's Rock Odyssey

Do you want to trade links?


GW said...

Thank you for the comment, Frank Forte. I checked out the first couple of clips from the film on YouTube. I think it has some brilliant animation and background art in it, but it's a bit of a mess on the whole. It skips directly from song to song and there's not much holding it together. I'm glad you showed it to me, since it's an interesting piece of history, but since I don't consider the film to be all that good on the whole, I won't trade links.

But glad to know about it, and you've been mentioned on Cartoon Brew.