What do you think is the best depiction of the Martian tripods?
Truthfully, I’ve yet to actually see a film version that used the Martian fighting machines’ really terrifying attributes. To me, the really definitive film version of War of the Worlds hasn’t been made yet (the period setting is non-negotiable). The scariest trait of the Martian fighting machines was that they were designed to fight a kind of war based on total extermination, which is something we’re not used to; imagine if a tank were redesigned to kill as many civilians as possible.
For example, George Pal brought their disintegrating heat ray to screen, but not the more viscerally horrifying weapon, the black poison gas they fired from the underside that were used to kill civilians in huge quantities. A few versions had the pseudomuscular tentacles, which were used to kill, crush, tear trees out, and rip humans in half, and are just an eerie, alien image unlike any earthly technology.
The creepiest part of the War of the Worlds, which seldom makes it to film adaptations, was the fact that, at times, it was not just conquest but also an ecological attack, like a red seaweed that eerily glows in the dark that started to grow over the entire countryside and choked the Thames River.
The Martian fighting machines get all the attention, but they were not the only war craft that the Martians brought to Earth in the War of the Worlds. One was a metallic segmented wormlike drilling robot used to dig in the earth, and another was a crablike lifter used to capture and store humans. The Martians did have a heavier than air flying vehicle, but it seems they were mostly used the same way that airplanes were used at the beginning of World War I, for reconnaissance instead of as attack craft.
The Martian flying ships were the closest the book had to having the coppery manta ray craft from George Pal’s War of the Worlds. I can’t fault George Pal for not using the tripod fighting machine in his movie, because in 1897, the potential of flight in war was barely understood. By 1953, we had a better picture of how effectively it could be used, so why not make them flying craft? One of the funniest parts of the War of the Worlds is that it was easier to imagine the existence of Martians than it was to imagine heavier than air travel. That was a little too farfetched to put front and center!