Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tripod Terrors

Right, it's time to get back to business.

Specifically the business of giant walking death-engines. See, there's been plenty of depictions of the Martian fighting-machines since The War of the Worlds was first published in 1898. That's plenty of time for hundreds, nay, thousands of designs to surface. But how do we go about picking the best one? Maybe there isn't any one design that we can consider the epitome of Martian war technology. But because this is a Wednesday and I have nothing else planned we're going to try and find one anyway.

Here's a good place to start. This is Henrique Alvim Corréa's interpretation for a 1906 edition of the novel, fighting the HMS Thunderchild. Or maybe it's a water tower, I'm not too sure.

Here's one that's always baffled me. Why is there only one heat ray for all those tripods? Did the others forget theirs on the trip from Mars? Why are they all gathered around to watch the one in front demolish some guy's house? Why do they have googly eyes!?

Frank R. Paul was the man back in the day. The sheer body of work he put out was staggering, practically a bottomless well of creativity. He did the illustrations for virtually all of Hugo Gernsback's publications in the 1920's and helped define the aesthetics of speculative fiction for years to come. So when The War of the Worlds was published in Amazing Stories in 1927, the task naturally fell on him to design the Martian war machines.

I like this design, the tentacles, the tiny head on top, the little basket for captured Earthlings, it's all good. But what's up with those legs? If I was invading an alien planet I think I'd want something better than those rigid pogo sticks. Look at the one in the background, it looks like it's about to topple over.

I'm going to call those legs a fashion faux pas. But the chrome makes up for it so I give this design four out of five heat rays.

It's true, you can't go wrong with that classic saucer shape and I like the transparent hood that reveals the mysterious inner workings of the fighting-machine. But I scorn these tripod's lack of tentacles. Seriously, what's up with those hands? They don't look like they're good for anything besides holding the heat ray. What if it drops it? War's over I guess?

Two heat rays out of five!

Ah yes, the 1953 version. These are a definite departure from the classic tripods, but a welcome one. These new fighting machines are sleek, stylish and just so sinisterly alien. My favorite part is the flexible death ray on top, like a snake hitching a ride on a giant manta ray.

"But Tyler!" I hear you bleating. "They're not tripoooooods!"

Maybe not in the traditional sense, but according to an early version of the script these fighting machines were held aloft by three beams of electrical energy, allowing it to eerily float across the landscape. You can even see where these beams were supposed to emit from on the underside of the machine.

So where are they? Well for a single scene near the beginning of the movie you can actually see those contact points sparking and making these ghostly electric arcs, but the props were so dangerous to work with that they decided to just ditch the idea for the rest of the movie. They were basically little tasers after all.

So the legs are still there, just invisible...and deadly. Five heat rays out of five!

What? Does it surprise you that they made a musical based on The War of the Worlds? Listen for yourself, it's real!

Yes, as hard as it is to believe there's actually a prog rock musical about Martians invading Earth. Apparently it's very popular in England. But it's easy to see why; their stage shows have actual life-sized tripods looming over the audience, shooting lasers and smoke. It's basically the entire book, but told in a groovy soundtrack, like something by Yes or Pink Floyd. The only problem is that it isn't in America!

Oh well, as for their tripod, it's very good. It has rigid, jointed legs like the Frank R. Paul versions, but these ones look like they can walk around with much greater mobility. Plus, those creepy compound eyes at the top are very unique and iconic to this design. All in all, it's a good, retro look. Thus, I give it four and a half heat rays out of five.

It would probably get a higher score if I ever got to see one of their shows in real life. Seriously, just look at that crazy thing.

2005 was a weird year, in that it saw three adaptations of The War of the Worlds released around the same time. The best known of course is the Speilberg version (Which we're getting to soon!) Then there were the other two movies which, statistically speaking, none of you have heard of.

This tripod was in the Pendragon Pictures version, a movie that was by all accounts a complete, dismal tragedy. Make no mistake, their hearts were in the right place, and their intentions were pure: the plan was to make a movie that was completely faithful to the original book. This meant that all the action takes place in Victorian England and focuses on the Martian invasion and all the calamity it entails.

They had it all, heat rays, black smoke and even the Martians were exactly like how they were described in the book. So what went wrong?

You can probably guess just by looking at the picture that the special effects were a The CGI was like something out of a video game from the 90's and all the tripods moved with this ridiculous looking, ungainly shuffling. They looked like they were hastily pasted over all the scenes they were in, so they didn't really walk around as they did an awkward animation, scooting around in the sky. Plus, all the acting was horrible and instead of filming night scenes at night they did them in broad daylight with a purple filter over the screen.

It was horrible. It was embarrassing. But they tried and that's what really matters. And I'm not being sarcastic. They did their best to capture the original spirit of The War of the Worlds, it's just that it got lost in translation, hidden by absurd special effects.

As for the tripods themselves; I like the bent, insect-like legs. The mirror-like heat ray at the top is very nice (and accurate!) and the chain-like tentacles are very cool. Over all, the greenish copper metal is a very good look. One get's the impression of a giant preying mantis, supposedly H.G. Wells' favorite insect. Just please, for the sake of their dignity, don't try to find videos of them in motion.

I give this design three out of five heat rays.

Then we have the other, other adaptation that came out in 2005. The universally loathed Asylum version. For those of you who don't know, The Asylum is an ultra-low budget film studio that does nothing but make awful, cheesy rip offs of more popular movies. Seriously, their entire business model is ripping off better movies and releasing something with a title just similar enough to confuse people but not infringe any copyrights. So thanks to them we have such gems as Snakes On A Train, Transmorphers, Sunday School Musical and of course this mess. I wish I was making this up.

As for their "tripods", they have six legs and resemble crabs more than anything. This in itself isn't bad. But the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. I award this version no heat rays, it gets a magnifying glass instead.

Here we are, the Spielberg version. Make no mistake, I still hate this movie, there's no doubt about that. But this adaptation has perfect tripods and around here, that counts for a lot.

Everything about these fighting machines is perfect. They're like giant cybernetic cuttlefishes. The distinction between machine and semi-organic alien is almost nonexistent. Everything about them is so futuristic and inhuman. Of all these tripods, these and the 1953 versions look the most like something an extraterrestrial species would make. Plus, their weapons are one of the only honest-to-goodness death rays I've seen in a recent movie.

And then of course, there's that sound. You know the one.

That's all for now, but remember: these represent a small fraction of the designs floating around out there. Fans all over the world have been making their own tripods since the turn of the century and they're worth a look at.

"Don't forget Striders! We have union contracts!"



mom said...

googly eyes and tentacles are always good. but, may I add freakin lazer beams attached to thier heads?

Shadgrimgrvy said...

That sounds pretty expensive. Last I checked they cost ONE MEEEELLION DOLLARS.

Anonymous said...

tripods are awesome

Anonymous said...

mommy tripod ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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