In War of the Worlds (2005), the tripods attack various cities and incinerate humans. Periodically, they blast a loud (and scary) horn sound.

It doesn't seem that horn sound is a signal, because attackers never want to communicate their intentions to those they're attacking. The typical strategy is to disguise their communications through wireless encryption, frequency hopping, etc.

The horn sounds don't seem designed to make humans either freeze in place, or scatter. Throughout the film the humans have different reactions to the loud horns. And to make the humans scatter, the tripods can use their incineration rays.

Question: Is there an in-universe explanation for why the tripods blast their scary horns?

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    The sounds are not answerable within the universe of the film. It's never mentioned as to why they're making the sounds and people never try to decipher what they should mean. It's not a form of speech, as we heard the aliens growl at each other. The aliens in their infinite arrogance could have been using it as a form of communication, or signalling system between each other not considering humanity would understand or use it against them...but that would be giving too much credit to the film. It's simply a scary warning for the audience the death beams ar'a comin'. Aug 25 '19 at 23:32
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    In the book it felt as a way for the tripods (or, rather, the Martians) to induce fear in humankind.
    – Joachim
    Aug 26 '19 at 12:15
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    i wonder no one asked this question until now
    – ashveli
    Aug 27 '19 at 4:26

Out-of-universe, there's obviously the startling, unsettling primal instincts that Spielberg puts his fingers on with those huge horns. I don't live in the US or near a sea but I would totally understand why the horn would be likened to foghorns or tornado horns, designed to set off an internal alarm.

With that out of the way, I have an admittedly grim take on the lots of the horrifying elements throughout the movie, which was set already in the beginning, when the narrator (Morgan Freeman) began his speech.

No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century, that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own. That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied. Like the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects, vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes. And slowly and surely, drew their plans against us.
emphasis mine, taken from IMSDB

I personally think this was a showcase of humanity's inexplicable weakness compared to the aliens. Aliens are indifferent to humans' reactions, like a scientist exterminating bacteria they no longer need in a lab, or exterminating vermin with insecticide in an apple garden. The horn was perhaps a signal to other aliens, that 'this tripod has started cleansing this area', or a routine sound the machine makes while its cleansing operations start to load.

This interpretation would be consistent with some other elements incorporated into Spielberg's machines, such as the 'indifferent sack' and the style people are thrown in it resembling something like a jar, if a kid was trapping butterflies in it. It's not too comfy but it's spacious enough to allow limited movement, not rigidly handcuffing people to walls or somesuch, as you would expect from some sci-fi tropes. Another example could be using blood as some form of 'fertilizer', as soon as resistance started to break down.

These themes throughout the movie lead me to believe nothing really was fine tuned in the machines as they were depicted as all-powerful, to which whatever humans did was inconsequential.

  • Interesting interpretation. So you're saying that the horns are a signal, but the aliens don't have any concern about us hearing them - just as scientists don't mind talking to each other around a Petri dish filled with bacteria under a microscope? Aug 25 '19 at 23:07
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    @BrettFromLA exactly. That we were being studied makes it seem like us trying to defend ourselves was more of an evolutionary response to them than waging a war.
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 26 '19 at 7:00
  • An excellent answer. My personal thought was the horn was possibly the Martian equivalent of shouting "BOO-YAH!" or "YEE-HA!". Sheer exultant fun noise.
    – Blaze
    Aug 26 '19 at 21:42

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