Bad Science in “John Carter”

Before I go any further I should say I enjoyed the film – it was hokum but entertaining hokum. Howewver, the pedant in me can’t let the bad science in it go.

First off there is the fact that Mars is inhabitable at all – we now know that has a thin wisp of an atmosphere containing carbon dioxide and not much else. Not to mention the average surface temperature makes Antarctica seem tropical. But that is what we know now. The novel on which it was based, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” was first published as a magazine serial one hundred years ago. At that time Percival Lowell was producing maps of Mars showing an extensive canal network and advancing as a serious hypothesis the notion that they were carrying water from the ice-caps to the cities and farms of a dying civilisation. Let’s give the film a pass on that – call it an alternative reality, and move on.

Next was how John Carter got to Mars, or Barsoom as the natives call it. In the novels he was able to teleport backwards and forwards. No explanation as to how Carter got this ability was advanced. It was just a means for Burroughs to get his hero to Mars and into the adventure. In the film the teleportation was achieved by means of an artifact belonging to the “therns”. These beings appeared as human but could change their appearance and would appear to be some alien species parasitising on the Martians. One of them hinted quite strongly to Carter that they intended to move on to Earth when Mars was used up. These beings could travel quite freely between worlds using these artifacts which worked by means of a “Ninth Ray”. This is just pseudoscientific arm waving. (Yes I know the ninth ray was in the books.) One final problem with teleportation – the velocity difference between Earth and Mars would result in Carter being splatted on impact.

Carter has problems with the lower Martian gravity initially but then makes use of his greater strength by leaping and bounding all over the place. Plausible – to an extent. However, Olympic high jumpers jump about 2 metres – which raises their centre of gravity a little over one metre. In the lower Martian gravity they would manage to elevate it 2.5 to 3 metres – giving a maximum jump of 4 metres. Carter, however manages to jump twenty or thirty metres, sometimes from a standing start. The long jumping is even sillier – the world record is under 9 metres so on Mars one might plausibly say that such an athlete could leap tweny five metres or so. An encumbererd Carter manages to leap about half a mile across a city.

Carter also manages to break chains and pull boulders apart even though gravity has no effect on intermolecular bonds and such feats would be just as difficult on Mars as they are on Earth. He al;so whirls a boulder and chain around his head in an arena fight. Judging by its size, it would mass something like three tons and would have the same inertia on Mars as on Earth and thus would be just as difficult to accelerate. Even in the Martian gravity it would weigh over a ton and thus be impossible to lift.

The Martian moons appear as large objects in the sky. In reality they are so small that Phobos would appear about a third of the size as the Moon appears on Earth and Deimos would be little more than a bright star. In the film they always appear as a close pair whereas in reality they have independant orbits.

Finally, Barsoomian vertebrates – including the Green Men – are six limbed. One exception is the Red Men who are caucasian Homo Sapiens in appearence. It is not revealed whether or not they are oviporous like the Green Men (in the novels they are – which means that their internal biology is so alien that it would be impossible for an Earth human to have a child with a Barsoomian.) I do wonder whether future films will suggest that the Red Men are descended from Earth humans brought to Mars by the therns.


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9 Responses to “Bad Science in “John Carter””

  1. Ben Bawden Says:

    Bad Sciene in “John Carter”

    Bad spelling in Letting Off Steam

  2. Butters Says:

    I think the objects in Mars’s sky are supposed to be the Earth and Moon.

  3. Katie Says:

    How about the whole part how he goes to Barsoom for a small period of time, comes back to Earth and time has passed rapidly. As that is what was suggested in the movie with the Dead guys bones full white and completely decomposed…..
    That confuses me, are the time differences that great?

  4. Knowledged Says:

    One thing that is explainable as I believe some of the theories in this film is based of true Quantum theory. It has been proven that when you teleport an atom you can only send a copy somewhere else and the original physical atom will stay where it is. Now this is all they have told us, who knows what they have known all this time and what the scientists are willing to reveal to us all. What happens when you send the atom back to its original physical place they have yet to tell us. now about time dilation, there has to be some form of it based of Relativity. If you teleport at the speed of light, time will move faster from where you came.

  5. daangelo29 Says:

    You missed the part about how the teleportation works in the movie. It doesn’t actually physically teleport Carter to Mars. As explained in the movie, the device that “teleported” Carter created a copy of himself and transported Carter’s mind into that body. When Carter’s mind was in Mars occupying his double, his original body back on Earth was in stasis, or a coma-like state, or something. This would explain why when Carter was transported back to Earth, he looked exactly as he did before being transported to Mars, and when he tried to get up it was though as if he was lying there for a very long time.

    Also, in Burroughs’ work, the red men or “Red Martians” *are* Martians and native to Mars. They bled blue blood like the Tharks or the “Green Martians”. The Therns were also Martians, who are a type of “White Martians” (called so because of their white skin). As a matter of fact, the term “human” in Burrough’s work is not exclusive to the “Earthmen”. To quote Dejah Thoris, “nearly every planet and star having atmospheric conditions at all approaching those of Barsoom, show forms of animal life nearly identical with you and me.” This would suggest that in John Carter’s fictional reality, there are likely other humanoid species in every living planet other than Mars. Apart from the Therns and Red Martians, there were also the “Yellow Martians” or the “Okar”, who were basically humans with “lemon” skin as Carter described it, and the “Black Martians” or the “First Born”, the oldest of the Martian races. One of these First Born is the (fake) goddess of Mars herself, Issus.

    I used to read Burroughs’ works, including A Princess Of Mars. 😉

  6. John Carter (2012) » Says:

    […] mythology, according to Secret Sun in the above link, and called “bad science” at, but since I have much graver consternations with Mr. Spock’s red matter in J.J. […]

  7. benjamin omron Says:

    mythology according to secret sun in the above link

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