Fighting machine (The War of the Worlds)

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This article is about the fictional H. G. Wells machine. For other fighting machines, see Combat vehicle.
For other uses, see Tripod (disambiguation).

Martian fighting machine illustration drawn by Henrique Alvim Corréa for a 1906 edition of the novel

The Fighting Machine (also known as a Tripod) is one of the fictional machines used by the Martians in H. G. Wells' classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. It is a fast-moving, three-legged walker, reported to be 100 feet tall, with multiple whip-like tentacles used for grasping, and two lethal weapons: the Heat-Ray and a gun-like tube used for discharging canisters of a poisonous chemical Black Smoke that kills humans and animals. It is the primary machine the Martians use when they invade Earth, along with the handling machine, the flying machine, and the embankment machine.


The fighting machines walk on three tall, articulated legs, have a grouping of long metallic tentacles underneath, a flexible appendage holding the Heat-Ray projector, and atop the main body a brazen hood-like head that houses a single Martian. H. G. Wells first describes the fighting machines in detail in an early chapter:

And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? 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. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. 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.

The War of the Worlds

Another eyewitness described them as "Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men".

A London newspaper article in the novel inaccurately described the fighting machines as "spider-like machines, nearly a hundred feet high, capable of the speed of an express-train, and able to shoot out a beam of intense heat". Ironically, earlier newspaper articles under-exaggerated the Martians as being "sluggard creatures". 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, 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.

It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. 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. But no one has absolutely proved these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

The War of the Worlds

The metallic tentacles, which hang under the main fighting machine body, are used as probes and to grasp objects. These machines sometimes also carry a metal cage or basket which is used to hold human captives so the Martians can later revitalize themselves by fatally transfusing their captives' blood supplies by using pipettes. The height of the fighting machines is unclear; a newspaper article describes them to be more than 100 feet tall (30 m). But they are also observed wading through relatively deep sea water. 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; Thunder Child is eventually destroyed by the Martian Heat Ray.

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, the Martians refer to this device as a "large-scale hydrogen accelerator"). Once they arrive on Earth, the fighting machines are quickly assembled. A London newspaper article cites unnamed authorities who believed, based on the outside dimensions of the cylinders, they carried no more than five tripods per cylinder.

The depiction of the fighting machines in any medium only very rarely takes into account, according to the novel, that the Martians never made use of the wheel and made singularly little use of the fixed pivot. This is in accordance with a lack of such joints in the Martians themselves, who are tentacled invertebrates, but makes designing a feasible walking machine difficult. When one of them is brought down when its leg is smashed, its Martian driver is able to repair it within a day.

Martian tripods drawn by Warwick Goble in 1897; personally criticized and disowned by H.G. Wells.

The original conceptual drawings for the fighting machines, drawn by Warwick Goble, accompanied the initial appearance of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. When Wells saw these pictures, he was so displeased that he added the following text for the novel's hardcover appearance:

I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. 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. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them.


The War of the Worlds (1953 film)[edit]

The Martian fighting machines in the 1953 Paramount film The War of the Worlds resemble sinister-looking, copper-colored manta rays. They glide on three electromagnetic legs, visible only when emerging from the pit made by their crash-landing, and later shown indirectly by a sparking, burning effect where it touches the ground. Designed by Albert Nozaki, each fighting machine is armed with a visible, reddish heat-ray, atop a moving goose-neck, mounted in a cobra-like head.

The machines also have weapons which fire green energy bursts from both wingtips; these are identified as "skeleton beams" for the ghastly visual effect, in which an x-ray-like silhouette of the victim's skeleton becomes briefly visible as the body disintegrates. These weapons are immediately hypothesized by character Dr. Clayton 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); they appear deployed as a long-range surface weapon, as compared to the heat-ray which is used at closer range and against taller structures or overhead aircraft. These fighting machines do not have grasping tentacles; the Martians in the film apparently have no use for humans as a blood supply. Their tactics for advancement across the terrain bear this out: "...they slash across country like scythes, wiping out everything that's trying to get away from them", as described in the film. 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 use of this probe and a subsequent physical reconnoiter (and contact) by a single Martian is the only time the Martians display any interest in humans.

Another major difference is the presence of an energy force shield, a "magnetic blister" identified by Dr. Forrester (resembling, when briefly visible, the glass jar placed over mantle clocks: cylindrical and with a hemispherical top) that protects each of the fighting machines from heavy ground fire. The film's machines were invincible to all standard Earth weapons, including an atomic bomb. In the novel, the fighting machines were vulnerable to British Army artillery fire and a Navy torpedo ram.

Television series[edit]

The serialized War of the Worlds TV series was established as a sequel to the 1953 film with many of the alien technology in the first season cued with visual references to the design of those in the aforementioned film.

While almost never using fighting machines in general, the series does reveal in one episode that these same aliens (from Mor-Tax; not Mars) did at one point use fighting machines in their past before evolving into the floating machines as seen in the film. This "older model" resembles the latter machines with only a few noticeable differences.

Aside from the legs, there is no visible mounted Heat-Ray; however, where the latter models have a green window in its front, the fighting machines have an orange/red colored window (framed in blue circle) that, coupled with its pulsating glow, suggests that it is a cruder version of their Heat-Ray and is built into the body of the machine. Whether it is a Heat-Ray, or what other weaponry this model possesses is unknown. While the new models are reminiscent of a swan, these tripods seem more inspired by an insect, both in its (briefly seen) movement as well as 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. This is given credibility when three aliens later take possession of the tripod. 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.

The pod in question appears to have to no weaponry and can only seat a single alien. Its purpose is not given, leaving its connection to the invasion and the aliens' technological progress unknown.

Alien tripod illustration from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, by Henrrique Alves Corrêa

H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (2005 film)[edit]

In Pendragon Pictures' low-budget, direct-to-DVD H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the only Victorian-set adaptation of Wells' novel, the Tripod fighting machine design is loosely based on the look of a praying mantis, which according to director Timothy Hines was a favorite insect of H. G. Wells.[citation needed] 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 Tripods have three long, ridged, and stilt-like legs, which occasionally stride with the right and rear leg moving forward together in a clumsy, unconvincing manner. The Heat-Ray sits atop the Tripod "head" and has a round, spinning mirror on a metallic arm; when the mirror rotates rapidly, it emits a long-range Heat-Ray. The deadly chemical Black Smoke is emitted from the tips of the thick tentacles in the form of a spray, instead of the novel's gun-like device that fires canisters of the deadly gas over distances. 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. There are other Martian machines seen in the film: a four-legged fighting machine and six-legged handling machines that somewhat resemble scorpions.

H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (2005 film)[edit]

In H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (aka Invasion), a film adaptation from The Asylum, the fighting machine is a menacing, six-legged machine resembling a crab. The Heat-Ray is built into the body of the machine, shooting through a slot on its "head". The ray itself instantly incinerates a victim's flesh, leaving only skeletal remains. This machine can also eject an object that emits a green gas (similar to the black smoke) through the same slot, and has an opening atop the head through which Martians can leave the machine, as well as at least one clawed, metallic tentacle, grabbing fleeing humans. The machines do not appear to have particularly heavy protection against artillery, unlike the machines protected by invisible shields in the 1953 and 2005 big studio adaptations. They appear to be 20–30 feet tall, unlike the 100 foot tall tripods of Wells' novel.

War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008 film)[edit]

In the Asylum's 2008 sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, the new walkers are tripods called squid-walkers, and capable of flight. Unlike the first film the Martians do not control the fighting machines from the inside but govern living cyborgs by remote control. A Heat-Ray is attached to the walkers, as well as a kind of ray that teleports humans to the mothership, where humans are drained of their blood to feed the aliens. Whereas Wells' fighting machines carried cages to capture humans, these tripods place the humans in the machines themselves. The interior of the machines is organic, with no windows or controls, as these tripods travel at will. The walls within the organic corridors absorb anyone unlucky enough to touch them, to destination unknown.

War of the Worlds (2005 film)[edit]

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 "energy 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). In a published interview screenwriter David Koepp stated his belief that they were planted by these extraterrestrials as a part of some kind of alien "contingency plan" (said plan never being revealed to the audience).

The features of the fighting machines also differ: 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; no conventional 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. It has been suggested that the aliens' heat-ray only destroys "organic" matter, but this does not fully explain the destruction of buildings and vehicles, nor the untouched cotton and wool of clothes, both of which are organic. 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 superheat 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 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. The sounds used by the tripods in the film consist of one loud 113 Hz blast (between A2 and A#2 on the musical scale) for three seconds, followed by a deep 136 Hz blast (near C#3) for another three seconds, sounding very much like Earth lighthouse foghorn blasts. 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 hatch in the body over each cage dials open and a smaller tentacle reaches down 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.

Additionally, the fighting machines have a tentacle that is used as a camera probe to explore small places, such as the inside of buildings, and another used as a pipette to drain human blood directly from humans. The collected human blood is then sprayed from the tripods' "heads" as fertilizer to aid the spread of their fast-growing terraforming red 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. The huge tripods appear to have been made to resemble the aliens themselves: They have three legs, a large mantle-head, and three arms attached to their thin bodies; the tripods' main body and the aliens' heads resemble cuttlefish.

The lethality of the fighting machines can be summed up in a phrase spoken in the film (a paraphrase of a line from the 1953 Pal film): "Once the tripods start to move, no more news comes out of that area."

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds[edit]

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,[1] the basket to hold captured humans is a cage on the handling machines instead of the fighting machines,[2] and the "cowl" (cockpit) of the fighting machine is fixed in place, instead of being a separately moving hood. The three legs of the fighting machine have fixed joints and stiff legs rather than the jointless, free-flowing organic legs described in Wells' novel.

This interpretation of the Martian tripods also appears in the 1998 and 1999, video games based on the Jeff Wayne album.

Parallel and sequel novels[edit]

In Kevin J. Anderson' The Martian War the Martians use two type of tripods, the ones from The War of the Worlds and a smaller, "overseer" variant. 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 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen[edit]

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. It should be noted that the aliens are not actual Martians as many of the characters believe, but are actually from a further world and are forced off of Mars by John Carter. These fighting machines are more organic-looking than in other depictions, with wide, crested heads, and it is implied that the materials of the machines are secreted by the aliens themselves. 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 tripedal machine as a form of transport. A tripod is left standing as a memorial, and is seen gradually decaying throughout the events of Black Dossier (set in 1958) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century (set in various dates between 1910 and 2009).

Influence on later fiction[edit]

Michael Condron's sculpture of a Wellsian Tripod, in Woking, Surrey.

Alien tripod fighting machines have appeared in several novels, movies, video games and television series.

In John Christopher's trilogy, an alien species has subdued the Earth. The aliens travel in three-legged machines known as tripods, as they cannot survive in Earth's atmosphere. The Tripods was later made into a BBC TV serial, which ran for two series but was cancelled before the three-part story was completed.

In Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars, time travelers from the 31st century passing through the late 19th century observe the Martian fighting machines attack a Brazilian city.

The tripods also inspired the AT-AT, AT-ST, and other war-machines in the Star Wars series.

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. When the first tripod emerges, it appears as a giant iPod (named a triPod), selecting "Destroy humanity". Its other features are given a comical treatment; the cages on their backs feature a V.I.P area. Inside the tripod is the bathroom from Saw, where it is revealed the aliens are commanded by the Saw doll.[3]

Creatures and machines similar to the fighting machines are featured in many video games, such as the Striders from Half-Life 2[4] and their companions, the Hunters from Crysis and its sequels and spin-offs; Annihilator Tripods from Command & Conquer 3;[5] Colossi from StarCraft II; Science Walkers and Defilers from Universe at War, and Darkwalkers, which use rays and emit a similar noise, from Unreal Tournament 3.

Alien tripod mecha have appear in many animated movies and series, for example in the three-part pilot of the Justice League; the Japanese animated film Be Forever Yamato; in episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, 'Ed, Edd, n Eddy and Kim Possible, as well as (albeit based on automotive spark plugs, and with four legs) in a daydream sequence in the 2006 film Cars. In the Japanese anime Space Runaway Ideon, several of the Buff Clan's heavy mecha have three legs, inspired by the Tripods.

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 & shields, and goes on destructive rampages when activated. However, the origins of the craft has not yet been explained.

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 mechs closely resemble the tripods in the Steven Spielberg version, except that their legs are more squat and robust. Their names are also adapted from prominent Greek gods (Hera, Hades, Zeus, Poseidon).

In the American children's cartoon movie "Chicken Little", alien tripods attack the Earth. The aliens themselves sit inside the tripods and they look similar to War of the worlds aliens.

In the animated superhero film Ultimate Avengers 2, a race of aliens called the Chitauri invade earth. Machines resembling Wells' fighting machines are briefly seen attacking London, as a deliberate homage to War of the Worlds.

In the 2010 TV movie High Plains Invaders, a Western film about an alien invasion of the American Wild West in the 1890s, the alien antagonists were inspired by the machines of Wells' fiction. The machines walk upon legs (four legs instead of three) and carry a weapon above their head on a neck, resembling the Martian Heat-Ray from the 1953 film adaptation of War of the Worlds.


  1. ^ "The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells". Wikisource. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  2. ^ "The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells". Wikisource. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  3. ^ "Synopsis for Scary Movie 4". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  4. ^ Ben Bowen (24 December 2004). "Half-Life 2 review". Just Adventure. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  5. ^ Alec Meer (26 March 2007). "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Review". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 

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