Follow TV Tropes


Headscratchers / John Carter

Go To

  • When we first see the Red Men on Mars, their dialogue is rendered in English. But when we meet the Tharks, their dialogue comes off as alien until Carter learns to speak their language. But the Red Men and the Tharks speak the same language, don't they?
  • Why is it that nearly every word of the Martian language is translated, except the word for "Mars"?
    • Sounds cooler that way.
    • It's not a translation of the word for Mars, it's their name for their planet. It's like if you saw a random guy on the street and decided to call him Steve, and then you met him and he told you his name was Bob.
  • What exactly are the Therns trying to do? Are they simply messing with human societies because they can? Did they mention any sort of long-term goal?
    • Going by the books, they basically have a race-wide god complex and think they have the right to do whatever they want with "lesser" races. Also, they propagate the religion of Issus and the idea of taking a pilgramage down the Iss; they enslave (and sometimes eat) the pilgrims who arrive at their destination. I'd guess they were backing the Zodangans here because they found them easier to manipulate.
  • One Thern says that the Therns don't cause the desolation of planets, but they do "feed" on this destruction. How does that work?
    • They use the conditions on a collapsing planet to build their society on by propping themselves up as gods and then manipulating people into doing what they want.
  • Why do the Therns have a cave of gold on Earth? Are they stockpiling gold?
    • See below; I'm pretty sure that's just a "waystation", not Thern property. I doubt they care about the fact that it's full of gold.
      • No. The Therns have little gold ingots there with the Nine Rays on them. I imagine the therns may have been using it as a slush fund.
      • If the Therns have a presence on Earth, having ready access to a large quantity of gold would be very useful in helping them manipulate people.
  • Couldn't the Therns manage to secure their cave of gold a bit better? There's just one guy, armed with a knife. (Granted it's a blue glowly techno-knife, but the overall effect is the same.) Couldn't they at least put a ''door' in there somewhere?
    • I think the cave of gold is just a "waystation" of sorts. That there was a Thern there at all when Carter showed up was probably just coincidence.
      • The cave by itself is just a curiosity to humans without the transporter medallion.
  • Why do they say "If Helium falls, Barsoom falls?" Is Helium somehow key to Barsoom's ecology? Or is it just taken as granted that the bad guys will conquer the Tharks after they conquer Helium?
    • Helium is one of the most powerful nations on Barsoom. If it falls, there's no one else with the strength to stand up to the aggresively expansionist Zodanga.
    • More to the point, Helium is the only city left besides Zodanga.
  • When Dejah has the chance to kill Sab Than, why doesn't she just kill him? (That's what we end up doing eventually, and it all works out pretty well.)
    • Because killing someone's leader when he's come under truce is a great way to get them to ramp up their already open war with you. When Sab Than is eventually killed, it's a. in the middle of battle and b. by the hands of Matai Shang for other reasons.
  • The Therns say they're going to assassinate Dejah because she knows too much about the Ninth Ray. We know there's at least one Thern still on Barsoom after Carter gets sent back to Earth. How is it that Dejah is still alive ten years later? Did the Therns decide not to kill her? Were they thwarted somehow?
    • Sequel Hook. (She was not really shown in person ten years later, the movie's final image of her is in Carter's mind.)
    • There's a big difference now; Dejah knows about the Therns. And if she has any sense she has told literally everyone else. The Therns are likely very much on the retreat now.
    • Time seems to work differently on Mars than it does Earth. His adventure on Mars only takes a few days, a week maybe. However when he gets back to Earth, enough time has past that he's covered in inches of dust and the army guy is a clean skeleton. So it's quite possible that 10 years haven't passed on Mars, but rather only a few days or weeks or months, at the most.
      • It's possible that his adventure on Mars took much longer than we see portrayed on screen, they do a lot of traveling and whatnot after all. And the books make it pretty clear that he had been gone quite long enough for his son to do some growing up, so no reason to suspect the same wouldn't have happened in any sequel to the movie.
  • Why do the Therns order that Carter be taken alive rather than killed? Why do they later banish him to Earth rather than kill him?
    • They want him alive because they're curious about him- they want to know who he is, where he's from, and how he got here. As for banishing him, I assume they figured using their tech to get rid of him would be a lot easier than trying to kill someone who's a One-Man Army in Mars conditions.
      • It doesn't matter that he's a One-Man Army; they can just paralyze him like they did before. In fact, at the moment of banishment-to-Earth, it looked like they had paralyzed him. So why not just kill him then?
      • If you listen closely, Matai Shang says something to the effect of "Your move, Earthman", before sending Carter back. It seems that after milennia of manipulating everyone, they're legitimately curious to see what someone capable of throwing a wrench into their plans will do next.
  • What are the Therns doing while Carter is back on Earth? They spend ten years watching him in secret as he tries to find a medallion. Their apparent plan is to wait until he finds a medallion and sends himself to Mars, so they can kill him once he's in suspended animation. Um...why don't they just kill him before that? Just get a gun and shoot the guy.
    • Maybe they simply want to keep him off Mars, and they feel that killing him would be excessive unless he actually succeeded in getting to Mars.
    • They figure if there are any medallions left lying about, he'll find them, then they A. make sure he doesn't get back to Mars, and B. make sure nobody else finds a medallion and heads up there.
      • Also, they're plain old curious to see what he can accomplish. Remember Matai Shang's "let's see what he can do." It sounds like it's been a long time since someone actually managed to oppose the therns; someone like John Carter is plain old interesting.
      • May also be simple practicality. If they kill him, he becomes a martyr... the Barsoomians might build a religion around him, after what he did. Just send him on back to Earth, it makes them all think he just ran out on them.
  • Carter escapes from Earth and finally gets back to Mars, leaving his nephew to guard his dormant body in the meantime. But wait...Carter is aware of an alien invasion of Earth, namely by the Thern. Maybe he should try to do something about that, before he leaves? Like, demonstrate the existence of the medallion to various witnesses, and inform people about the Thern so they can (hopefully) mount some sort of resistance? I mean, his nephew is aware of the threat, but how is the nephew going to convince anybody else?
    • Carter just wants to get back to Mars. Every minute he spends on Earth is another minute he might lose the medallion somehow. And it's not clear that the Earthbound Thern have anything all that evil up their sleeve at the moment, so there's no rush. And hey, maybe Carter comes back in a couple months and does everything you just mentioned, before heading back to Mars again.
    • The Therns on Earth don't seem to be up to anything in particular at the moment (other than keeping an eye on Carter himself); they're most likely just scouts. If Carter wants to stop them, Barsoom's the place to do it, since that's where the major stuff is happening.
    • Because he just wants to go back home and be with his wife. That's the most important thing on his mind.
    • Demonstrate the existence of the medallion? How? The medallion's just a piece of jewelry until it's used. Is John supposed to waste time shuttling people back and forth? Okay, I suppose he could've left the door open so Edgar could reclaim the medallion after he used it, and then Edgar could demonstrate it to people.
  • Why is the tomb Carter builds for his body on Earth so defensible against Thern intrusion? Their powers seemed ill defined, but can't they teleport? Isn't that how Matai Shang gets away at the end before Carter or Tars Taka can kill him? Why would a door that can only be opened from the inside stop them, couldn't they just teleport directly into the tomb and kill Carter's body, and then teleport out at any time they wanted?
    • We don't know how precise their teleporting is. Trying to teleport into a tiny room surrounded by stone walls that you've never seen the inside of sounds like it could be a great way to get stuck in the walls.
      • I'm surprised they didn't just blow their way in. Then again, the Therns are arrogant and seem to enjoy their game with Carter. They might have wanted to do it his way.
      • Though there are even simpler ways into the Tomb considering that the roof is clearly just a glass dome. All you really need to break into the place is a stepladder and a hammer.
  • Why were the Thark women fighting over choosing hatchlings if the hatchlings get raised in a communal nursery?
    • Per the novels, hatchlings are mentored by individual females who teach them language, fighting, etc (though the whole thing is presented as cold and businesslike, rather than any sort of parental relationship). Tharks being Tharks, they were fighting over who got the strongest hatchling.
  • When Carter returns to Earth, we see the remains of the Cavalry officer, but why isn't there any remains of the Thern Carter killed? Shouldn't his bones be on the floor as well? He was right next to Carter, and if the Officer's skeleton was there, that must have meant nobody found the cave.
  • What if the Thern watching Ned figure out the puzzle was invisible? How could John be sure the Thern would show up at that time and wasn't just planning on planting explosives at the door?
    • He didn't. But nobody ever said the man was a Chessmaster. He gambled and won.
  • What's with the Therns and stabbing people? Couldn't the Thern that John killed in the cave and the one that tried to kill "Ned" just, you know, shoot him? With an earth gun, to protect the masquerade if needed? They have fingers, i'm pretty sure they can use guns.
    • To both: Because if the bad guys account for everything and do everything perfectly, then you don't have a story.
      • Amazing how many questions that answers, isn't it?
    • Given that they like to tout themselves as more advanced than pretty much everyone, they may feel it beneath them to use "primitive" weapons. That knife construct probably has added benefits, too. If it works anything like the gun, it might eliminate the body on a clean hit.
  • This was probably explained somewhere and I missed it but how did John survive Tal Tarkas, the Thark chief attacked the leader Thern, who was disguised as John, with two swords at the end of the final battle and John leapt towards the Thern and got hit by Tarkas' swords which cut the skin and drew a little blood but didn't have the expected effect of beheading and John said he'd explain latter, I don't remember that ever being explained unless his flesh was still a little crystallized from the Thern's attack.
    • ...What? Tal Tarkas stopped. Carter didn't get hit by the swords, Tarkas stopped them at the last moment.
  • If John's strength on Mars is from the gravitational difference, wouldn't Therns have a hell of a time doing anything on Earth?
    • They're not from Mars, either.
  • Doesn't it seem odd when Deja and Carter make there crude map of the solar system, that Carter seems unusually knowledgeable on the topic? In the late 1800's United States, such detailed information would hardly be widely available. And even if Carter were by the standards of the day, highly educated, detailed and (correct) information of this type would be extremely Uncommon information for to one possess, outside the circles of the mostly amateur astronomers of the time.
    • Not at all, over 80% of civil war soldiers were literate and if anything, knowledge of basic astronomy was way more popular then than now. The sky was their TV. The random person from that time period would likely know much more about the solar system than one today. It was the beginning of the era of modern observational astronomy. If anything, they played down how much knowledge he would have.
    • Knowledge of the solar system is older than you think - the Babylonians knew about heliocentricity. The Greeks knew about things as far away as Jupiter. Admittedly, Neptune's discovery falls into the 'uncommon knowledge' branch, but if someone was a learned scholar (John seems adept at gathering knowledge about things that interest him) then they may know enough about the already-known planets. Earlier on, John seems to 'get' the idea that he's on a different planet. If he knew nothing of the solar system, this would blow his mind more than, "I'm not on Earth!" There was light foreshadowing, he's a smart guy...
    • John was an officer when he was in the army. While that doesn't necessarily mean he had a college education (at the time), it's entirely possible. If he attended college, the basic science courses might have covered the solar system.
      • His military training could also have included orienteering, which might also touch upon basic astronomy in passing. (Compasses can get lost or broken in the field, after all.)
  • What was up with that drink that the Tharks fed to Carter that let him hear "the Voice of Barsoom"? Did the Tharks really get so many human visitors to Mars (Barsoom) that they would need to devise a drink that would immediately translate the language? Or would this drink be used for early language development in infant Tharks?
    • Probably the latter, since I think they were feeding it to the infants, too.
  • There is something about the Batman Gambit that Carter pulls at he end that really bugs me: Wouldn't the Thern that was in charge of keeping an eye on him, know that Carter was pretending to have found the medallion, simply by virtue of knowing that it couldn't be there?
    • Why would he? The Therns are not omniscient, they can lose track of their gear just like anyone else.
  • I can accept that being adapted to Earth's gravity makes him faster and stronger than the inhabitants of Mars. What I can't accept is Carter snapping metal chains in the arena. Strength and speed are caused by adaptation and evolution, but the tensile strength of metal is universal, no matter what planet you're on. I would also think lifting boulders wouldn't be done so easily either.
    • He doesn't snap the chains in the arena—the closest he comes to that is when he jams a spike in to get himself free. And lifting is, again, gravity based. If there's less gravity, then yes, he's going to be able to lift boulders easier.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: