Beans, Beans, the Tragical Fruit

This video is not an advertisement for Haynes Baked Beans (which don’t exist) but for Cinesite, a movie effects company based in London and Montréal.  Cinesite has contributed visual effects to many well-known films, including Skyfall, Iron Man 3, World War Z, and the Harry Potter movies.  This short film, entitled Beans, is their first in-house animated feature.  One can easily see the production values that made them a force in the world cinema market.

I don’t have a problem with the first-class visual effects, but  I do have a few quibbles with the scientific details.  You may accuse me of pedantry.  That’s fair, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t pick a few nits.

The action in the film appears to take place on Earth’s Moon.  The Moon has no atmosphere (okay, a negligible atmosphere), so there is no medium to transfer the sound of the monster’s roaring and stomping, the astronauts’ screaming[1], or a fart.  That last part is what bothers me most about this film: the zinger at the end is entirely dependent upon the monster’s ability to hear the astronaut’s flatulence.

Now you might argue that the monster’s feet are sensitive to vibrations traveling through the lunar regolith.  Since the farting astronaut is also in contact with the lunar surface, the vibrations of his unfortunate gas could travel through his spacesuit and then through the lunar soil, eventually being detected by the monster.  That seems unlikely.  First, a fart is generally not very loud (certain exceptions apply).  By the time the vibrations of the fart reached the astronaut’s boots, they would have been greatly attenuated.  The loosely packed regolith would deaden the sound even further (I assume…it’s remarkably hard to find scholarly papers about the acoustic properties of moon soil).  The monster’s feet would have to be incredibly sensitive to detect the astronaut’s flatulence from that distance.  I’m not sure I can buy into that.  Even if the monster could detect low-level soil rumblings, it seems like the noise would be drowned out by the monster’s own footfalls.  No, any way you look at this, it doesn’t work on the Moon.

But maybe the film is not set on the Moon.  You never see Earth in the background.  Perhaps the action is taking place on some other world – a world that resembles the Moon in topography but which bears an atmosphere thick enough to carry sounds.

No, that hypothesis doesn’t fly either.  The Sun is clearly above the horizon, but the sky is black.  Any world with an atmosphere thick enough to transmit sound would have a colorful sky during the day, thanks to Rayleigh scattering.  This may not be happening on the Moon, but it’s definitely an airless body.  The monster could not have heard the farting astronaut.

There are a few other issues.  We see some dust billowing around the monster’s feet, but dust only billows and lingers in an atmosphere.  In a vacuum, any dust kicked up during the monster’s rage would follow a tidy parabolic arc until it hit the ground again.

Also…four astronauts on the lunar surface?  The Moon-landing Apollo missions carried three men each, only two of whom descended aboard the Lunar Module.  Landing four men at a time would require either the simultaneous launch of two Apollo-style missions, or the development of a much larger Lunar Module.  A larger LM would be heavier, which would require a bigger, more expensive rocket to get it to the Moon.  The Apollo program was already enormously expensive.  I can’t imagine NASA springing for the unnecessary expense (or risk) of sending two extra astronauts.

Scientifically, the film doesn’t work.  I know the film was not intended to be a science lesson, but I don’t see why the producers had to thumb their noses at science in the process of making their film.  The special effects are great, but I kind of lose a little respect for the film when I notice a huge and easily fixable plot hole.

1. I couldn’t tell if they used the Wilhelm scream sound effect when the monster threw the second astronaut. Anybody else?


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