Sunday, August 03, 2014

EVA in "Guardians of the Galaxy"

There's only one aspect of "Guardians of the Galaxy" that bugs me, and that's the EVA scenes. I'm not sure whether to chalk this up to "Hollywood physics," but there was a scene or two in which characters found themselves in space with little or nothing in the way of protection. Instead of freezing quickly or suffering the effects of explosive decompression,* they float placidly in the ether, icing over slowly and looking for all the world as if they were hovering in the depths of some ocean.

Movie nerds will want to come up with nerd-splanations for how the characters could survive for as long as they did without substantial protection. I myself have two theories.

1. Neither of the two characters exposed to vacuum is completely human, which means their alien physiologies may have protected them from the worst effects of being in space.

2. The region of space in which the story unfolds is webbed with forcefields that trap oxygen here and there, and it could be that our characters had found something like an air pocket—partial vacuum, not full vacuum, thus slowing down the process of space-death.

The evidence for this second theory is the behavior of matter in the region of space that Thanos, one of the biggest and baddest of the bad guys, inhabits. In Thanos's scenes, we see him and his lackeys standing on rocks that seem to be floating nowhere, completely exposed to space. Despite this apparent exposure, the characters talk and breathe as if there were air. If characters can talk, then there must be air to transmit sound vibrations, from which I conclude that there are invisible forcefields holding air in. In theory, these forcefields are most intense—thus trapping the most air—in the region immediately around the beings who need the air. But the forcefields could still be active over an indefinite distance, containing and/or attracting oxygen in thin, unevenly distributed pockets and tendrils.

Nerd speculation is usually predicated on a feeling of discomfort: the moviegoing nerd wants to suspend disbelief, wants to be fully engaged in the story, but a moment in the movie disrupts that effort and makes the nerd disengage. This disengagement produces a twinge of annoyance or anxiety, and thus begins the search for an explanation that will restore a sense of contentment, even if that contentment doesn't arrive until after the film is over. And that, boys and girls, is precisely why I just went through the above mental exercise: "Guardians of the Galaxy" was a fun and delightful film (review), and I want to keep liking it.

*For more on the physics of being exposed to hard vacuum, see here.


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