The Alien’s habit of cocooning its victims serves different purposes across the various films. Alien tried to establish that the cocooned victims ‘morph’ into eggs, thereby continuing the Alien threat. Aliens took advantage of the cocoon scene’s removal from the theatrical cut of the first film and showed that the eggs were instead the result of an Alien Queen. The cocooned colonists of Hadley’s Hope are transfixed rather than transformed; all collected and impregnated together in vast nurseries within the hive.
Alien cocoons also featured in many Alien 3 scripts. In Eric Red’s story they are routinely spun by Aliens who embed their victims into the latticework to await impregnation, much as they do in Aliens, but Red also writes that the cocoons induce metamorphosis as indicated in Alien’s famous deleted scene.
“A horrible halfway transformed Colonel Sinclair is all sewn up in cocoon substance, his arms and legs molted mostly away. He realizes he is turning into one of those things. His face is torn as much with terror as hideous agony.”
~ Alien III by Eric Red, 1989.
In Vincent Ward’s script a host of cocooned monks form part of a “grim tableau”, with Ripley and Brother John finding them “impaled on their own pikes. Tangled together in their own pungy stakes. Alien cocoon material cobwebbed over their bodies.”
The cocoons made it to further Alien 3 scripts penned by a long concatenation of writers including producers Walter Hill and David Giler and pens for hire like Rex Pickett.
In one draft by Giler and Hill, dated 10th October 1990, the cocoons appear on page 91, near the end of the movie. The Glassworks from Vincent Ward’s script has yet to be superseded by the furnace from later scripts (in fact, this version retains many beats and milieus from Ward’s story, refitted to suit the prison environment), and it is here that the Alien has made its nest.
There is a low moaning emanating from somewhere within the nest. Ripley and Aaron advance forward and find “Dozens of semi-tramsparent pods — inside each, a prisoner’s body.”
Aaron gets closer, close enough to “almost make out the faces of the men inside the cocoons,” and realises that the prisoners are still, though barely, alive.
They find Superintendent Andrews cocooned and protected by a ‘Membrane’, a “cross section of laser light” that acts as an alarm. If the membrame is breached, then the Alien is somehow alerted to either escapees, interlopers, or perhaps a birth.
The Membrane is, obviously, an elaboration of the blue laser seen in the derelict’s hold in Alien. Ridley Scott had mused that this sheet of light acted as a trigger or alarm for the eggs, perhaps to alert the Space Jockey of any contamination. Alien 3′s proposed Membrane instead seems to be a function of the Alien itself.
Superintendent Andrews begs to be put out of his misery, so Ripley, in true Alien tradition, immolates him. The cocoon chamber is quickly in flames and the Alien turns up in a fury. Ripley sets the Alien aflame by launching her torch and it flees. The scene concludes with Aaron and Ripley chasing after it.
The cocoon appears in the next iteration of the script, dated 18th December, 1990. The nest has been transplanted from the Glassworks/Furnace to the Assembly Hall (that is, the steel panopticon where we first meet Dillon, Andrews, Aaron, and the other prisoners at the beginning of the movie.)
This time it is Dillon and Morse, not Ripley and Aaron, who stumble into the nest.
They find Superintendent Andrews, again cocooned and protected by a Membrane, and, again, they put the hive to the torch and are promptly attacked by the Alien. Dillon attacks the beast with his torch and it flees, disappearing behind a nearby cement abutment. Meanwhile, the hive burns around them.
Morse: Come on! Let’s get out of here!
Dillon: You go!
Morse: Both of us!
But the inferno grows, and Dillon forces Morse through a nearby door and locks him on the other side. Then: “Turning back to the ghostly, flickering incadescence, Dillon begins to pray softly.” The scene ends with:
As 1990 began to segue into the new year independent filmmaker Rex Pickett was hired to write a draft based on Giler and Hill’s December 1990 script.
Pickett excises the hive sequence entirely in his version, but there is one notable character who finds himself cocooned by the creature:
Moving deeper into the abattoir, Dillon finds:
GOLIC cocooned, ensconced in fluid, and still alive! He appears to be trying to say something. Morse leans forward and listens. Then he turns to Dillon:
Morse: He’s saying, ‘I’m sorry, sir.’
Dillon just looks at Golic, shaking his head. The others all stand behind him, looking. Eric continues babbling inanely in the background.
~ Alien 3 by Rex Pickett, first draft (revised) January 5th, 1991.
Pickett was let go after a month of work and Giler and Hill revised the script again. This time, they got rid of the cocoons altogether.
But since the script was being written throughout the film’s shooting many props were designed and crafted but were ultimately either cut from the film or never used at all. These include the super-facehugger, an ox host, and of course the cocoons and their hosts.
“We were going to end up making twenty of these cocoons,” Tom Woodruff Jr told Cinfex magazine. “We started on two, and then the plug was pulled because Fincher’s idea was that the creature simply kills to eat. Actually, we did finish one off for Fincher because he liked it so much. He had it on set with him and would occasionally climb into it for inspiration. He called it his ‘thinking shell’.”
So what do the cocoons add to our understanding of the film and its story? It seems that the Alien acts as a custodian for the embyronic Queen, clearing the area of potential hostilities and setting the foundations of a hive.
But there is a contradiction in the Alien’s actions. If it has built the hive to properly secure hosts or a food store, and needs Ripley to carry the Queen to term, then why doesn’t it abduct her and seal her within its nest? After all, what’s to stop the prisoners from hacking Ripley and the embryo to pieces with their axes or simply bludgeoning her?
And if the Alien is building a food store, as Ripley says in the 10/10/90 script, then why are many of its victims blindly eviscerated and their corpses abandoned? And why does the Alien’s nutritional needs appear so late in the game? If the Aliens and the Queen need to eat, then why do they leave the bodies of the colonists to rot in Aliens?
But it’s safe to say that if Alien 3 had preserved its cocoon scene then it would have been only a minor logical headache compared to some other elements in the story, and might have become, like the rest of the film, very well appreciated for its visuals and imagery alone. Though Aliens is the only film within the first three to actually depict its cocoon scenes in its theatrical cut, the pods have become as vital to the idea of the Alien as its biomechanic textures and retractable jaws.