Fighting machine (The War of the Worlds)
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 three-legged walker with mounted weapons such as the Heat-Ray. It is the primary machine the Martians use when they invade Earth, along with the handling machine, the flying machine, and the embankment machine.
- 1 Novel
- 2 Adaptations
- 2.1 The War of the Worlds (1953 film)
- 2.2 Television series
- 2.3 H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (2005 film)
- 2.4 H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (2005 film)
- 2.5 War of the Worlds (2005 film)
- 2.6 Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds
- 2.7 Parallel and sequel novels
- 2.8 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
- 3 Influence on later fiction
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 External links
H. G. Wells first describes the fighting machines in detail early in the novel:
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.
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". Earlier newspaper articles having described the Martians as "sluggard creatures", the narrator describes "a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds".
The fighting machines are armed with a Heat-Ray, fired by a camera-like mechanism held by an articulated arm, and Black Smoke, a type of poison gas deployed by cylinders. It can also discharge steam through nozzles that dissipates the Black Smoke.
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.
Their tentacles are used as probes and to grasp objects. The fighting machines also sometimes carry a metal cage or basket which is used to hold captives so the Martians could later drain their blood via 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 wade through relatively high water, as when HMS Thunder Child opposes a trio of tripods pursuing a refugee flotilla heading to France off the coast of England.
In the book the fighting machines are delivered 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"). On Earth, the machines are quickly assembled.
The 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 added the following text to the final version of his book:
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)
The Martian war machines in 1953 movie The War of the Worlds are drastically different from the ones described in Wells' novel. Instead of towering 100 foot-tall, fast-walking tripods, the Martian machines resemble sinister-looking, copper-colored manta rays. They glide along on three electromagnetic legs, visible only when emerging from the pit made by their crash-landing meteorite-ship and later shown indirectly by a sparking, burning effect where it touches the ground. Designed by Albert Nozaki, each war machine is armed with a visible, reddish heat-ray, in keeping with the novel, which is mounted atop a moving goose neck in a cobra-like head that incinerates anything the heat-ray touches.
The machines also have weapons which fire green energy bursts from both wingtips; these are referred to as "skeleton beams," so named for the ghastly visual effect shown when striking a human: 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 behind a black stain on the ground (either remnants of the burned bodies or a scorching of the terrain where they were standing); they appear to be 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 U. S. Air Force aircraft.
These war machines do not have grasping tentacles; the Martians in the film apparently have no use for humans as a food supply. Their tactics for advancement across the terrain bear this out, sweeping out, section-by-section "...they slash across country like scythes, wiping out everything that's trying to get away from them," as described by General Mann during his analysis of their tactics.
The war machines are also equipped with a retractable cable tipped with an electronic eye housing with three colored lenses (red, green, and blue). It is used as a probe and slightly resembles the Martian "face." It is deployed from a round hatch on the underside of the machine, which appears completely 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 show any interest, other than homicidal, about 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 war machines from heavy ground fire; it even protects them from the power of an atomic bomb blast, never touching the fighting machines encased inside.
A major difference between this and H. G. Wells' novel was that the film's war machines were invincible to all standard Earth weapons, including the power of an atomic bomb launched against them. In the book the war machines are heavily armored and were vulnerable to Army artillery fire and a British Navy torpedo ram. The novel's war machines had no defensive capability other than a fast moving offense.
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 war 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 pod of theirs 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.
H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (2005 film)
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 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. The tripod has a large, free-moving head atop the smaller main body, giving its Martian occupant a panoramic view. It has four thick, metallic tentacles held on high, with boxy-looking segments, making them appear more bicycle chain-like rather than slim and whip-like as described in Wells' novel; they are used mainly to capture humans during the film. The machine has three long, stilt-like legs which occasionally stride with the right and rear leg moving forward together in an unconvincing fashion. 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 chemical black smoke is emitted from the tips of the thick tentacles in the form of a spray, instead of the bazooka-like device that fires canisters of the smoke, as described in the novel. The fighting machines also has the collecting basket for captured humans, but in the film it looks more like a regular 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)
In H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (aka Invasion), a film adaptation from The Asylum, the fighting machine is a walker, but not a tripod. Instead it 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", which can turn around on the bottom part that houses the legs. This machine can also eject an object that emits a green gas (a substance similar to the black smoke) through the same slot. It also has an opening atop the head through which Martians can leave the machine, as well as at least one appendage, a clawed, metallic tentacle, that is depicted as 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 film adaptations. They are probably about 20–30 feet tall. The book does mention some crab-like machines, however these are handling machines, not fighting machines.
War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008 film)
In the Asylum's 2008 sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave the new walkers are tripods called squid-walkers. Unlike the first film the Martians do not control the fighting machines from the inside but instead the tripods are living cyborg organisms controlled by a single entity from a mothership. They also have the ability to fly. 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 are curiously lethal, as an unknown force literally pulls in anyone unlucky enough to touch them. The fate of anyone pulled in is unknown.
War of the Worlds (2005 film)
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 planet. In this version the tripods were long ago brought to Earth, having been buried underground in its past. The aliens instead travel in "capsules" to their 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 eye can see, and the unearthing of the first war machine suggests they may have also each been kept in something similar to a cylinder (which might have been part of a rocket or other transportation that brought them, long ago, to Earth). In a published interview, screenwriter David Koepp stated his belief that they were planted long ago 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 weapons can penetrate them (an obvious reference to George Pal's original 1953 film version). 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 put forward that aliens' heat-ray only destroys "organic" matter, though this does not fully explain the destruction of buildings and vehicles, nor the untouched cotton and wool of clothes, both of which are organic. One offered solution 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 a microwave oven.
The fighting machines have several searchlights mounted on the front facing forward for navigational use and 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, and they propel themselves by truly "walking" over any terrain; this can be seen as faithful to the original novel, where Wells describes the fighting machines as being more organic in their nature than mechanical. 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 at one point in the book. 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 other tasks, as well as two seemingly detachable metal-wire cages attached directly underneath on the rear and along on each side of the machine's hull, used for temporary human prisoner storage; a hatch in the hull over each cage dials open and a smaller tentacle reaches down into the cage to pull a captured human into the machine every few minutes for off-camera blood processing. At one point, it was revealed that a human with explosives, after getting put into a cage and later pulled into the tripod, can destroy it by detonating the explosives inside the machine, demonstrating an effective, yet highly risky, method of destroying them.
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 tentacle used as a pipette to drain human blood directly from uncaptured humans. The altogether-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 book, the fighting machines appear to emit some kind of 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 tripods appear to have been made to resemble the aliens themselves, which have three legs, a large head, and three arms attached to their bodies. Some have observed that the tripods' main body housing and the aliens' heads look like 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 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
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 some inconsistencies from Wells' description in his novel; for example, the Heat-Ray emanates from a proboscis in the cupola rather than from a box carried by 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 fighting machines also makes a "Ulla" sound, which is believed to be used for communication between other Martians.
Parallel and sequel novels
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
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. These fighting machines are more organic-looking than in other depictions, with wide, crested heads. 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 Martians would use a tripedal machine as a form of transport.
Influence on later fiction
Alien tripod war 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 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.
Creatures and machines similar to the fighting machines are featured in many video games, such as the Striders from Half-Life 2 and their companions, the Hunters from Crysis and its sequels and spin-offs; Annihilator Tripods from Command & Conquer 3; 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.
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