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OccupationMilitary vehicleNationality Martian The fighting machines walk on three tall, articulated legs and have a grouping of long, whip-like metallic tentacles hanging beneath the central body, a single flexible appendage holding the heat-ray projector, and atop the main body a brazen hood-like head that houses a sole Martian operator. A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder.
But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand... Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body.
It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me.
Another eyewitness described the fighting machines as “Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men”. The main character witnessed the fighting machines moving “with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds”.
The fighting machines are armed with a heat-ray, which is fired by a camera-like device held by an articulated arm, and a chemical weapon known as “the black smoke”, a poison gas which is deployed from gun tubes, not unlike a soldier's bazooka. The fighting machines can also discharge steam through nozzles that dissipates the black smoke, which then settles as an inert, powdery substance.
This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a light-house projects a beam of light. The metallic tentacles, which hang below the main fighting machine body, are used as probes and to grasp objects.
The height of the fighting machines is unclear; a newspaper article describes them to be more than 100 feet (30 m) tall. HMS Thunder Child, a Royal Navy torpedo ram, engages a trio of tripods that are pursuing a refugee flotilla heading to France from the southeast English coast; the Thunder Child is eventually destroyed by the Martian heat-ray, but not before taking out two fighting machines.
In the novel the fighting machines crash-land to Earth in massive cylinders, shot from a sort of gun from Mars (in the PC game adaptation as well as the live musical version, the Martians refer to this device as a “large-scale hydrogen accelerator”). Martian tripods drawn by Warwick Noble in 1897; personally criticized and disowned by H.G.
The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect.
The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. In the film each fighting machine is armed with a visible, reddish heat-ray, atop a moving goose-neck, mounted in a cobra-like head.
The film's fighting machines are shaped like copper-colored manta rays, with a bulbous, elongated green window at the front, through which the Martians observe their surroundings. The lead character, Dr. Clayton Forrester, states they glide along on three electromagnetic legs (similar to the magnetic levitation employed by Japanese bullet trains).
These legs are visible only when the Martian machines emerge from the pit made by their crash-landing, and are shown later, indirectly, by the faint tracings of a sparking, burning effect where the near-invisible legs touch the ground. They are immediately hypothesized by Dr. Forrester as neutralizing mesons, “the atomic glue holding matter together”, causing the target to vaporize, leaving a black stain on the ground (either remnants of the burned bodies or a scorching of the terrain where they were standing).
The fighting machines are also equipped with a retractable cable tipped with an electronic eye housing, which has three colored lenses (red, green, and blue). It is used as a probe and slightly resembles the Martian “face” located on their upper torsos.
It is deployed from a round hatch on the underside of the machine, which appears seamless at any other time. The novel's fighting machines had no protection except for a fast moving offense and were therefore vulnerable to British Army artillery fire and a Navy torpedo ram.
The film's machines have a force field surrounding them; this invisible shield, identified by Dr. Forrester as a “protective blister”, resembles, when briefly visible, the glass jar placed over mantle clocks: cylindrical and with a hemispherical top, which protects each of the fighting machines from heavy ground fire. Therefore, the film's machines are invincible to all standard Earth weapons, including an atomic bomb.
Aside from the legs, there is no visible mounted heat-ray, however, where the latter models have a green window along its front edge, the fighting machines have an orange/red colored window (framed in blue circle) coupled with its pulsating glow, suggesting a cruder version of their heat-ray built into the body of the machine. While the new models are reminiscent of a swan, these tripods seem more inspired by an insect, both in its (briefly seen) movement, and the sound it emits.
The TV series also gives insight into the machines, referred to both by humans and aliens alike as ships. In “The Resurrection” the interior of the machines are seen to be lit by cold colors of blue and black (with only a sliver of neon green).
The machines have an on-board computer that the aliens can communicate with even when distanced by location and time, and even with relatively primitive equipment When asked how the aliens make the machines fly, Dr. Blackwood refers to Dr. Forrester's unconfirmed speculation that they are able to use brainwave impulses.
From inside, it can be seen that there is no obvious physical means of operation; instead, the three are simply seated back-to-back, a formation seen quite commonly among the aliens throughout the season, frequently in a state of some type of shared mental exercise (though what this practice is exactly is never detailed in the series). A similar seating construction appears to be present in the later machines with the device clearly identified as the computer placed in the center.
Information given in the show also suggests that deflector shields were not used until the 1953 invasion, after a recon mission proved that humanity had the means of effectively damaging their machines. The limited strength of their unprotected warships is also suggested by the fact that two or more of them were downed by a militia of no more than just 38 men.
Curiously, a late episode features a mysterious Martian pod found that is made of an element that is, by all accounts, virtually indestructible. Its purpose is not given, leaving its connection to the invasion and the aliens' technological progress unknown.
There are several differences between the fighting machines as described in Wells' novel and those in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film, which come from an undisclosed alien world. In this version the tripods were long ago brought to Earth, having been buried underground sometime in its distant past.
The aliens instead travel in capsules to their buried machines by some kind of “beaming” process resembling lightning (from where or what is never revealed), which transports them underground. The lightning containing the capsules travel faster than the human eye can see, and the unearthing of the first fighting machine suggests they may have each been kept in something similar to a cylinder (which might have been part of a rocket or other transportation that brought them to Earth long ago).
They do not possess the novel's killing chemical black smoke and are equipped with some type of invisible force shield that only becomes visible when struck by Earth weapons; no human weapons can penetrate them (an obvious reference to George Pal's original 1953 film). They are armed with two heat-ray-like weapons that incinerate humans to ash, leaving the victim's clothing behind while destroying and burning everything else; this caused confusion for some viewers and also among critics.
Another offered explanation is that the heat-ray is a high energy coherent emission of microwaves similar to a Maser that causes the water in the human body to super heat into very high temperature steam, which then causes the victim to explode into ash as it instantly expands; this would also account for the metal objects it hits catching fire as they heat up, like metal objects placed in an activated microwave oven. The fighting machines of this film have several searchlights mounted on the fronts of their main “heads,” facing forward for navigation and night illumination.
As in Wells' novel, the tripod's three legs are completely flexible, even rubber-like in their appearance and movement, with no visible mechanical joints or pivot-points; they propel themselves by truly “walking” over any terrain. This can be viewed as faithful to the original novel, where Wells describes the fighting machines as being more organic than mechanical in their appearance.
Spielberg's tripods also emit loud, deep bellows, which seem to be a means of calling out to one other, similar to how Wells' originally described them doing in his novel. Some have noted that the bellows created by the Tripods sound similar to a Gjallarhorn, specifically the one the Minnesota Vikings installed after moving to U.S. Bank Stadium.
The fighting machines are also equipped with numerous retracting and expanding tentacles for capturing humans and for other tasks. They also have two possibly detachable metal-wire cages attached directly underneath along the rear and on each side of the machine's main body, used for temporary human prisoner storage; a metal hatch in the body over each cage dials open, revealing an organic hole that then opens to allow a smaller tentacle to reach into the cage, pulling a captured victim into the machine every few minutes for off-camera blood processing.
At one point, it is revealed that a human with explosives, after getting put into one of the cages and later being pulled into the tripod, destroys its interior by detonating the explosives, demonstrating an effective, yet highly risky method of bringing down a tripod. The collected human blood is then sprayed from the tripods' “heads” as fertilizer to aid the spread of their fast-growing terraforming weed.
Similar to the novel, the fighting machines appear to emit some kind of novel-like black smoke before arming and firing the heat-ray, although this may only be accumulated dust and fine debris or a chemical steam for clearing vents. Tripods have a large, free-moving head atop the smaller main body, giving its sole Martian occupant a panoramic view.
It has four thick, metallic tentacles, which are held on high, made up of boxy-looking segments, making them appear like large bicycle chains rather than slim and whip-like, as described in Wells' novel; they are used mainly to capture humans during the film. The fighting machines each have a collecting basket for storing captured humans, but in the film it looks more like a standard solid metal bucket.
These appear organic, with no windows or controls, and the walls absorb anyone unlucky enough to touch them, sending them to an unknown destination. The fighting machines are described in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds and depicted on the album artwork painted by Michael Trim.
This version of the tripods does have major inconsistencies when compared to Wells' description in the novel; for example, the heat-ray emanates from a proboscis in the cupola rather than from a camera-like box carried by an articulated arm on the tripod, the basket to hold captured humans is a cage on the handling machines instead of the fighting machines, and the “cowl” (cockpit) of the fighting machine is fixed in place, instead of being a separately moving hood. This interpretation of the Martian tripods also appears in the 1998 and 1999, video games based on the Jeff Wayne album.
In Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, the fighting machines are described as having legs that can telescope down allowing for entry and exit, and as being possibly based upon the original body type of the Martians. The second volume of the comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen retells the story of The War of the Worlds, and the tripods are prominently featured.
They are depicted with details of the tripods from Wells' original novel; they have the heat-ray and baskets for captured humans. The fighting machines are shown to be destroyed by heavy artillery, launched from Captain Nemo's submarine.
Furthermore, Edward Hyde brings down a tripod by ripping off one of its legs, questioning why the aliens would use a tripodal machine as a form of transport. The Tripods were later made into a BBC TV serial, which ran for two series but was cancelled before the three-part story was completed.
In Scary Movie 4, a spoof of Spielberg's film, the fighting machines have only three tentacles and fire the heat-ray from their central eyes. Issues #7 and #12 of the Sonic X comic book feature a three-legged alien machine reminiscent of a tripod.
The machine is armed with laser weapons and shields, and goes on destructive rampages when activated. The Mechwarrior collectible miniatures game also has its own version of the tripods, called the Ares.
Developed under the fictional “Rhodes Project”, the 135-ton techs closely resemble the tripods in the Steven Spielberg film, except that their legs are more squat and robust. Their names are also adapted from prominent Greek gods (Hera, Hades, Zeus, Poseidon).
The aliens themselves sit inside the tripods, and they are similar to The War of the Worlds Martians. In 2021 the Royal Mint announced a new version of the UK Two pound coin in tribute to HG Wells.
The coins will bear an image of a Martian Machine with four, instead of three, legs and The Invisible Man with the 'wrong hat' resulting in derision from fans of Wells' work.