SciFi Round Six: Sky Captain and the World of Yesteryear
It’s nostalgia time. Set and styled to match 1939, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was made in 2004 and deliberated hearkened back to the old sci-fi adventure films of that era.
Which is to say, there might be some issues here, in between the cool cinematography, ray guns, and the robots that remind me of Gort.
Since there’s just… so much gone awry in this kind of film, I’ll stick to the highlights.
I can haz generator?
This is one of the things that always gets me about Superman films. Much as I like Superman, it’s kind of weird when he picks up a building, or some other huge object… like an island… and it doesn’t collapse around the point where he’s holding it. Seriously, folks, big structures hold up a lot of weight, but only because it’s distributed around the base of the building.
The giant robots fly or stride into New York City, break a bunch of stuff, and then proceed to steal a bunch of generators. And then hauling them off. That kind of thing is not made to withstand the strain of being picked up and flown about by mecha. I’d hate to be the guy trying to fix those when they got back to the base.
It’s also odd that it’s somehow easier to steal a bunch of generators, rather than the material for constructing them… if you did that, you could get your doomsday-powering devices to your own specifications, and, as a plus, when they’re finished, they’re not also damaged from having been stolen from New York under the watchful gaze of…
Ace Pilot Sky Captain of Awesome
Captain Sullivan is apparently the only guy to call when robots threaten New York. In fact, he is the only guy they call — not the airforce (the army air corp then), or the rest of the army or the navy. And when Sullivan goes to take the numerous robotic invaders down, he doesn’t even bother calling in the fleet of other pilots who are under his command. Which, while dumb in the real world, apparently works because of conservation of ninjutsu. Or because the sky captain is just that awesome. Or something.
Where’s Jenning’s Guards?
Walter Jennings is the last of a group of seven scientists who worked together in WWI to have not mysteriously vanished. He fears for his life, and apparently knows he’s going to be next. Polly Perkins also knows this. Why is Jennings not under police protection or surrounded by private bodyguards, to prevent him from being captured or killed?
Amphibious Flying Machines
Actual amphibious airplanes exist. They take off and land on water. These planes? Are like the flying sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (a similarly entertaining show and just about as realistic).
But, to point out a single problem with these: If you want a sub, you need to have ballast. That is, enough weight to hold you down at a given depth despite the fact that a large fraction of your ship’s volume is going to be filled with air, and to adjust your weight to adjust your depth. This is typically done with ballast tanks, which have air and water pumped into them, varying the weight of the sub.
This is not something you typically have in an airplane, which is not built to sink or to withstand the pressure of being under water and runs on jet fuel with 70%-80% the density of water. And then, there’s also the problem that your propellers, rudders, and so forth, are all designed to move air, not water. It gets worse from there. Where’s the oxygen to burn with the jet fuel coming from?
Since I talked about the SHEILD helicarrier in a previous post, I won’t go over in detail the issues with Franky’s helicarrier… er, I mean “mobile airstrip.” (And yes, she’s the one with the eyepatch.)
Noah’s Rocket Ship
The bad guy, Totenkopf, thinks the world is doomed, and all the bad stuff he does is towards building a modern ark and launching it into space with animals, two by two, to preserve and repopulate the world later.
This is not going to work. Two animals, for a lot of species, is just not going to be enough to restore the population. And even if it that first pair is remarkably fertile, later generations are going to be very incestuous and inbred.
There was also no mention of plants. Presumably, the animals have to eat something. It’s also not clear how he was planning on propagating the human race from a couple of mystery vials of the best essence of mankind, distilled into a new Adam and Eve. Maybe he had some kind of incubator which will grow a person or animal starting from an embryonic stage, which might also mitigate the animal propagation bottleneck … somewhat.
This is all worsened by the fact that the giant rocket also has a humongous empty space running through its center. Contrary to the obvious, space is at a premium in space. At least, pressurized space. Think of all the plants, extra animals, and other supplies you could store in there!
But, probably the worst problem in the whole film has to be…
Setting the Sky on Fire
It’s stated that when the ark-rocket gets high enough up, it will fire its boosters, which will ignite the atmosphere and kill everything on Earth. (It shows up in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, too, though in a different form.)
The idea may originate from a theory associated with the Trinity test, where some scientists feared that they might ignite the atmosphere when they set off the bomb. This was considered to be a rather low-probability outcome, obviously. (The link is a paper discussing how this is not going to happen.) The idea was that, if the bomb was big and hot enough, it might be enough to start a fusion chain reaction in the air. But, between the temperature and density of the atmosphere, the amount of energy released from, say, the fusion of nitrogen nuclei, and how quickly the particles from that fusion disperse… even if some nitrogen were to fuse, it’s not enough to sustain a chain reaction. Nitrogen can be fused in stars more massive than the sun, but the conditions on Earth are such that it’d take something way, way, way more serious than even Project Orion (a proposed nuclear-bomb-propelled rocket) to make the atmosphere burn.
And then, of course, there’s the irony that by assuming the world is doomed, Totenkopf attempts to preserve whatever he thinks in the world is worthwhile, and send it off in a rocketship whose boosters will doom the world. What.