Aside from the host animal from which Alien 3‘s monster emerges, two other changes between the theatrical and assembly cuts are worth noting: firstly, we are introduced to a new facehugger within the latter cut; an obsidian, armour-plated Queen-maker known as the superfacehugger. Secondly, the Queen-embryo manages a Pyrrhic birth in the theatrical cut’s finale, erupting from Ripley’s chest as she plummets into the prison furnace. In the assembly cut, the birth was removed, as per David Fincher’s original wishes.
After Aliens‘ release, James Cameron outlined the growth and maturation of his Alien Queen in Starlog magazine as thus: “an immature female, one of the first to emerge, grows to become a new Queen … Subsequent female larvae remain dormant or are killed … or biochemically sense that a Queen exists and change into males to limit waste.” The gender distinction is slightly confusing, considering that the Queen does not require a mate to breed and is therefore asexual/hermaphroditic, but we have always struggled somewhat without gender-specific labels. We can reconcile this entire idea by substituting gender with ‘ability to breed’. With a mature Queen present, the other Aliens ‘switch off’ their reproductive abilities until such powers are necessary; say, upon the death of the matriarch figure—an immature Alien could moult and become a Queen or, whilst in the process of this, morph the bodies of other entities into eggs, as seen in Alien‘s deleted materials. Of course, most if not all of this is rendered moot in Alien 3, where the Queen is a royal egg-maker from its very beginning within the host’s chest.
“We designed what we called the superfacehugger,” explained Tom Woodruff. “It was supposed to be a new strain of facehugger, presumably one which could implant the seed of a Queen. It was much bigger than the regular facehugger, had translucent webbing between the fingers, and was heavily armoured with plates and spines. It was cast out of urethane and had an armature inside built to look like bones. It was articulated so you could put it in any position, but it was never meant to be seen alive.”
The design of this creature probably has its origins in some of Giger’s aquatic facehugger designs, which is darkly coloured and sports webbed limbs for swimming. “There was an idea that was originally banded about because they needed to frame the specialness of the Queen,” said Fincher. “The original montage onboard the Sulaco was planned with a facehugger [sic – embryo] that was going to crawl out of Newt’s mouth. I’d seen that effect in The Company of Wolves and it just always looks like a rubber casting of someone’s head with somebody else’s fist being forced through it. I just never thought it would work.” The aforementioned scene made it into the comic book adaptation.
Confusion abounds among the differing cuts of Alien 3. In the theatrical release, a facehugger impregnates Ripley with a Queen embryo, and then goes on to defy franchise rules by impregnating another life-form, a colony dog, with a regular embryo. In the assembly cut, a new creature called the superfacehugger impregnates Ripley with a Queen embryo and the colony’s dog with a regular embryo—which makes for no real distinction in the reproductive abilities between the two creatures. Frustratingly, the body of the facehugger that we’re familiar with from the first two movies is glimpsed in the opening shots of Alien 3‘s assembly cut, which makes for the presence of both of the creatures. Though we would naturally reconcile the presence of both ‘huggers by concluding that Ripley was impregnated by the super variety, and the ox by the non-royal variety, this is rendered moot when the superfacehugger is discovered with the ox, and the other ‘hugger is not seen nor found at all. The latter simply exists in the assembly cut as a continuity mistake. There is also an in-film notion that the rampaging dog/ox-Alien protects Ripley, or at least refrains from harming her, due to her carrying its Queen, but the Alien never takes steps to create a nest (though it does so in one iteration of the script), slaughters all potential hosts, and does not take measures to prevent Ripley from harming herself, such as cocooning her to await the birth.
More controversy abounded during the filming of the movie’s finale. Originally, Fincher had Ripley fall into a vast whiteness, with the Queenburster remaining inert. Ripley then fades into martyrdom. Twentieth Century Fox and producer David Giler however, felt that a money shot was needed, and what better than to see the franchise’s heroine finally succumbing to the franchise’s villain? “The original background had Ripley falling into what was solely white, and had her just dissolving into it,” said special effects producer, Richard Edlund. “It was very stylistic and a much more cinematic ending. It was really quite beautiful, but David Giler came in and told us what he thought of it and that he felt the movie should be bookended by Ripley having a chestburster.”
“I didn’t want to have the Alien come out,” claimed Fincher. “I still don’t like the idea of the Alien emerging … I never thought it was necessary to show the creature. We showed it to preview audiences and it was voted that we would do this. I was very much against this and dragged my feet and said, ‘I don’t believe in it, I don’t think it is important to see the monster’ … No matter what cathartic experience we could expect from finally seeing the two strongest images from the first movie, the chestburster and the character of Ripley, if we left the movie with her choking on her tongue then the audience would feel worse going out of the film than they do now. I said ‘whatever happens, she has to be a peace at the end. It has to be a sigh rather than gritting teeth and sweat.'” Fincher considered the idea of having Ripley bear a stigmata-like spread of blood across her chest, but “Everyone felt it was too religious.” Finally, Fincher acquiesced and filmed the ‘burster emerging. “So we talked about it and went over and shot this blue-screen element. I don’t know if it works.”
“The chestburster in the original movie was great,” Fincher went on, “because it had been grounded in reality. There was a loss of control there that was really frightening. And the victim was lying on a table, which gave them the ability to do the effect. But we had Ripley standing forty feet in the air with nothing but steam around her for one hundred seventy five feet. How were we going to put this thing on her so she didn’t look like Lou Costello? Sigourney’s a very statuesque woman; and to hang all this stuff on her, as well concealed as it was, just made her look porky all of a sudden. It was inelegant all round.”
In addition to looking silly, the director felt that having Ripley kill herself at the moment of birth robbed her of any actual sacrifice. “If she gets ripped apart before she falls into the fire, that’s not sacrifice, that’s janitorial service,” he said. “To knowingly step into the void carrying this thing within her seemed more regal.”