The Sciences

Thor Points

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollMay 16, 2011 12:37 PM


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Having finally seen Thor on screen, I'm happy to give it thumbs-up. It works well as a summer superhero movie, and the acting -- especially Tom Hiddleston as Loki, but also Chris Hemsworth as Thor -- was much better than average for this kind of fare. (See takes from Adam Frank and Kyle Munkittrick.) Also, needless to say, it did a great job of advancing the secret atheist agenda. And the science? I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It was made clear that all of the super-ness was ultimately based on (some hypothetical set of) laws of physics, not just magic pulled out of the air -- without descending into a dreadful level of midichlorian-like overexplanation. There is one phrase used in the movie that I think is directly attributable to my input: "Einstein-Rosen bridge." This came about from a conversation between producer Kevin Feige and me that went something like this:

KF: We need the Bifrost Bridge to provide a way for the characters to travel great distances in space in a very short period of time. SC: Sure, you probably want to say that it makes use of wormholes. KF: Well, we can't call it a "wormhole." SC: Why not? KF: Sounds too Nineties. SC: I suppose ... you could call it an "Einstein-Rosen bridge." Means the same thing.

So naturally, in the finished film, Jane Foster calls it an Einstein-Rosen bridge, and someone says "what's that?", and she replies "it's a wormhole." Jennifer pointed out afterward that, while Jane Foster's scientist character was appealing and a good role model, they did miss a chance to make use of her love of science in the service of the story. While we see our Earth-based heroes zooming around the desert chasing atmospheric anomalies, the connection to astrophysics is never explained, nor do they really talk that much about science. In one scene Jane makes goo-goo eyes at Thor as he talks about all this apparent magic just being very advanced science. Goo-goo eyes are fine, but any real scientist in that situation would have started asking questions about spacetime and exotic matter and quantum stability and so on. It would have been great if we had seen Jane fall for Thor, not because of what he looked like without his shirt on, but because behind the gruff exterior he knew more deep physics than she did. Maybe in a sequel. I hinted that there was one thing all the scientists warned the moviemakers not to do, and indeed they didn't do it. In one conception, the planet of the Frost Giants was to be shaped like a disk. Not a ringworld-style band that used rotation to mimic gravity, but just a flat planet in the shape of a record (or a DVD, for you youngsters). Which is fine, if somewhat fanciful. The potential disaster was that they wanted to have a big fight scene where frost giants would fall off the edge of the planet. Pulled by ... what, exactly? Total gravity Fail. Fortunately they ditched that idea, although the concept survived in less egregious form in the depiction of Asgard, which looks like a mountain that sits on top of a galaxy. That also makes no sense, but it's so far from trying to make sense that the audience just sees it as poetic license, not a simple mistake.

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