In the novella, the satire, while based in Victoriana, dealt more specifically with human foibles grafted onto the polygons of Flatland. Here, the polygons of Flatland and the solids of Spaceland are almost total caricatures - such as the gay sounding Flatland Senator who leads the dissenting Chromatist movement, and who is assassinated by President Circle’s henchmen.
The film is best when sticking to the book’s original points - like Chromatism as a way to individuate, and Square’s ability to eventually believe in more than three dimensions, while Sphere cannot, thus showing that the solid’s seeming superiority to the polygon was based not in any immanent superiority, but a greater range of knowledge. Once that is equalized — by Square’s appearance in Spaceland — he soon expands his mind well past that of any of the solids.
From online clips, and descriptions, the shorter film version of the book seems more faithful to the original, in narrative, and also more convincing in terms of look. The animation seems better, and, yes, not as ‘cheap.’ The animation in Ehlinger’s film smacks of too-'90s video game phoniness, especially in comparison to the visuals that The Movie offers.
For some reason Ehlinger also feels a need to display the innards of the polygons of Flatland. Yes, a thing from another dimension might be able to see them, but all it does is add distracting pulsations to the animation. Given his independent low budget, it seems Ehlinger is trying to gild his lily, to show his limitations were not as bad as one might infer - especially in places where the screenplay fails. The major failings of the film thus fall squarely on screenwriter Tom Whalen, for violating one of the oldest rules in film adaptation: Never change a story that’s great by too much!
The musical score, by Mark Slater, is sometimes apt - as in a whimsical salsa-like number once Sphere takes Square to Spaceland, but at other times it’s a mess. The same goes for the early overuse of annoying and condescending (not humorous) inter-title cards that tell us when ‘important’ moments are about to occur.
This is why a good screenplay is so essential. Whalen’s is too scattershot to leave a lasting effect. Instead, the jabs at racism, extremism, political purges, corporatism, bureaucracy, and other ills, are rather ineffectual, especially compared with the novella. Also, killing off A Sphere in the Spaceland War seems pointless, and departs too much from the original.