The Meat Locker

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 The Glassworks from Vincent Ward’s script has yet to be superseded by the furnace from later scripts (in fact, this version retains many beats and milieus from Ward’s story, refitted to suit the prison environment), and it is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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

ali

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:

sad

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’.”

A cocoon-in-progress, from ADI's video.

A cocoon-in-progress, from ADI’s behind the scenes video.

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.

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17 Comments

Filed under Alien 3

17 responses to “The Meat Locker

  1. Andy Boy

    Great article as always. There are so many inconsistencies around this topic. I justify it to myself like this; when in isolation, the alien warrior attacks and/or eats anyone or anything that it perceives to be a threat. When under direction of a queen in an established nest, the alien reigns in it’s natural instincts and becomes a hunter gatherer for the “greater good” (i.e. the perpetuation of the colony). This theory only works, of course, if you count the director’s cut of Alien as non-canon. Trying to get clues or evidence from Alien 3 is a bit of a non-starter for me, with so many drafts and ideas. I’d love to see a retcon Alien 3 with Ripley, Hicks, Newt and the remains of Bishop waking up on Gateway station and finding that the events of Alien 3 and Resurrection were all a dream. A badly written one.

    • The trouble with the It Was All a Dream angle is that there were a lot of things that the audience had seen that Ripley “wasn’t aware of” so it wouldn’t be convincing.

      It would be the cinematic equivalent of messing something up and saying, “I meant to do that!”, when we all know that they screwed up.

      • Andy Boy

        Yep, I know it can’t happen and would lack credibility if it did but, hey, a boy can dream…
        (That Alien 3/Alien Resurrection/Prometheus was all a dream!)

      • Xenomorphine

        Not quite. I’ve had cinematic-like dreams which reveal a story in the same way as a film. All of which showed things which, within the dream’s story, ‘I’ would have had no way to be aware of.

        The only problem would be in the form of gambling whether the new film would be better. If it’s the same or worse, there’s no point.

    • Gordon

      As a perfect organism, the Alien should have multiple means of making a queen, based on different scenarios. A queen could come from an egg given special hormones, or a warrior could change into a queen. Having your body slowly turn into an Alien egg is creepy as all get out, and is a good twist of unearthly biology – similar to spiders injecting venom into their food, having the venom digest the prey, and spiders slurp up the meal having had digestion occur outside the body. Think how many tummy aches you would have been spared. Having reproduction occur outside the body is a great idea- turn your prey into an egg.

      • Xenomorphine

        Only possible if ‘Alien 3’ didn’t exist, I’m afraid. IF any adult could simply turn into one, there would be no biological need to have specific chestburster Queens. ‘Alien 3’ introduced that, sadly… It worked symbolically, because Ripley was carrying it, but I’d much rather have had it clarified that the oldest available adult would sense an adult and start to become one. As it is, that wouldn’t be biologically sound (unless the third and fourth movies are eventually retconned as dreams).

        On the other hand, I’ve been saying for years that it could make sense that the original ‘egg transformation’ method is what they do to CREATE Queens, when none are available. So, Brett and Dallas would have both been an emergency way to create a Queen-carrying facehugger eggs, which Ripley was then going to be implanted with.

  2. BillTed

    “But there is a contradiction…”
    Indeed.
    Poor Alien just wasn’t meant to be regurgitated over and over, and stretched thinnner and thinner. It just keeps getting dumber and dumber and you end up with contradictions.

    On the one hand you might look at Alien and say that its such a rich, textured and creative world that there must be plenty of more room to move around in it. But all hollywood producers really want to is not to move around in it, but to stay in place and keep doing the same thing.

    Allegedly prometheus’ purpose was to do just that, moving away from the same thing but then due to atrocious writing and ridley’s inability to recognize it as such, we end up with a bunch of skits and images and references to the same thing.
    Except without Aliens,
    except there was one of those to.

    And really I wonder if the sequel concept is even valid in the example of Alien. It was an intimate and claustrophobic story by design.
    Sure there was a richly realized world outside the window, but if you go out into that world to explore it, whats the point in any Alien connection?

    It wasn’t a galaxy hopping affair like Star Wars with different races and planets and characters to lend itself to expanded universe except in the most self devouring way.
    (And honestly even Star Wars expanded universe is almost… ahem, universally terrible.)

    • Andy Boy

      I’d agree, except I think Aliens is a terrific work. Maybe it made the Xenomorph itself less scary, but that’s in hindsight. I first watched it age 12, and any criticisms of it not being scary enough did not occur to me at the time. In fact, it took a good forty minutes for my heart rate to return to normal. And then I watched it again…

      There was a story to tell for Alien 3, just as I think there was a story to tell about Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. Both were fudged, and for exact opposite reasons: Alien 3; too many cooks. The Prequel trilogy; not enough cooks.

      I guess I’m still pissed off that nothing has captured my imagination like Aliens did when I was 12. The Matrix came close, but, guess what, they buggered that up as well. What a bunch of clowns there are in Hollywood!!!

      • BillTed

        Aliens is smart entertainment.
        Cameron really deserves credit for doing it as good as spielberg or jj abrams any day.

        (not really what I’m into personally,
        but thats a talent and your a nitwit to deny it!)

      • taffysaur

        Whereas I love the Star Wars prequels with every fibre of my being, and have always kind of hated The Matrix.

  3. Ever since seeing the aliens’ reproduction take a turn in “Aliens”, I felt comfortable reconciling both methods.

    The creature would try to track down its queen, and by not discovering one, would go through a hormonal (or, whatever) change and be able to infect the victims with something that would alter their biological make-up. This would be something akin to the Engineers’ black goo altering worms, humans, and God knows what else into monsters, but in this case into eggs.

    • Gordon

      Also, the Alien at the end of Alien was very slow and just wanted to be let alone. Maybe it was turning into a queen, or entering another stage? A queen could be made through various means – by means of a queen face hugger, or giving an egg certain chemicals, or a warrior could become a queen. As a perfect organism, the Alien should have multiple means of making a queen, based on different scenarios.

      • taffysaur

        I dunno… The black goo “alters” worms, humans and god knows what else, but they’re still recognizably worms, humans or (I can only assume) god knows what else. And Prometheus isn’t the place to look for scientific fidelity or logical consistency.
        People turning into eggs just seems too goofy and unrealistic to me. Unlike every other aspect of the alien, there’s no natural precedent. Things don’t transform into the eggs of _other_ things. That’s wacky.

        I do like the idea that Kane’s Son is undergoing some sort of change into a queen. I always did wonder why he’s so lethargic and vulnerable all of a sudden.

  4. Leigh Burne

    Another good read. Ever since I first heard about the deleted Alien 3 cocoon scene I’ve been disappointed that it wasn’t included. It would’ve been nice to see the creature actually planning for the future instead of just arbitrarily exterminating every potential host on the planet.

  5. BillTed

    “It would’ve been nice to see the creature actually planning for the future…”

    My concept was that the Alien goes back into the egg.
    It rampages and then molts back into the egg.

    And waits.

    Nothing more and nothing less.

  6. Fayde1

    It was my understanding that Dallas and Brett were food, being broken down as the egg-shell formed around them, for the next facehuggers. Brett was spiked (like Gorman) and I thought Kane’s Son was attempting that with Lambert but she was too brittle (the usual alternative didn’t fit this creature for me). Of course “Aliens” introduced the Host Cocoon aspect, so this original metamorphosis makes sense to be the lone-alien’s replacement method for reproduction in lieu of a Queen. “A perfect organism…” perfectly adaptable. Throw it into a different environment/situation, it will always adapt to follow its “prime directive” – propagation of its species. When it has a Queen, that Queen becomes priority. When it does not, it adapts…

  7. A few ideas.

    Alien – cocoon scene: The alien killed Brett and implanted a spore inside him. The spore would grow into an egg, using Brett’s body as an incubator and nutritional mass source (like a make-shift egg sac). The resulting facehugger would then use Dallas as a normal host. It’s possible that implanting the spore is a very taxing process, possibly fatal, which would explain the creatures sudden lethargic state.

    Alien 3 – The alien didn’t become super aggressive until the inmates attacked Ripley, (other than Murphy, though technically the fan killed him) who was carrying a queen embryo. It perceived them as a threat to the unborn queen, and began killing them, probably assuming there were other hosts (such as the oxen). Had the alien simply cocooned Ripley, she might have died from thirst, since the queen takes longer to gestate. Letting her stay mobile keeps her healthy, and the queen healthy.

    The cocooned victims/bodies could have been food for the queen. They have to get nutrition somehow, otherwise they wouldn’t need mouths – with teeth. Since their bodily fluids are corrosive, I imagine they could eat pretty much any kind of meat or really any kind of organic material, which would be completely dissolved and used very efficiently.

    The alien may have also been able to do the same thing that the first alien could do – implant a spore. This could be a backup mechanism in case the existing queen and her host dies. This negates the need for an alien molting into a queen. (side note: Perhaps this is something only the domed aliens can do, whereas the domeless aliens may be completely sterile, having already been born into a hive environment.)

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