Alien 3: The Shadow of the Sphinx

Leading from

a) The Woman's Mouth
The alterations to the alien design resulted in a creature with a body almost reminiscent of a feline and curiously, Fincher when he worked with Giger he said to hm "Let's make it woman when it comes up right to Ripley."

Fincher wanted him to design a woman's mouth with thick luscious lips.

Some of this is retained in the final creature put together by Gillis and Woodruff and Fincher joked to them that he wanted Michelle Pfeiffer's lips on the creature.

Alien creature with "big, luscious collagen lips" on the cover of Cinefex magazine

Michelle Pfeiffer with her luscious lips
b) Shadows of a Lethal Feline
Giger designed a new creature which was much more elegant and beast like compared to his original, This alien had four legs and was more like a lethal feline, perhaps a panther or something.

In the script Ripley likened it a lion in terms of the way it was hunting.

However when Richard Edlund worked on devising the motion for the puppet of the quadruped adult alien, a starting point was to take a look at cougars and cats but using this as a starting point didn't prove successful for him since they had a different muscular physique from the ADI puppet alien.

Giger's Alien 3 creature
c) Apparition of the Sphinx 
However what we have is a biomechanoid creature with a quadruped animal's body and some roughly female humanoid facial features : the mouth and the chin.

Giger used the word "spinx" amongst his list of words to describe the qualities of this alien.

So does all this make this alien a sphinx?
close up of the face of Giger's Alien 3 creature

d) Steering away from a feline
However the final design for the creature was not quite what Giger had in in mind, but had been turned by other people into something that was virtually a cross between a dog and an insect.

We might think about Giger's lethal feline with a woman's mouth and chin adds up to being near enough the appearance of a sphinx and perhaps this is what the film's creature in the end unconsciously was.
ADI's alien adult puppet.

e) Traditional sphinx
The form of the sphinx turns up in many cultures but one of the most well known in Western society is the one in Greek mythology encountered in the story of Oedipus.

These creatures are generally said to have the head of a woman, the body of a lioness, the wings of an eagle, and a serpent headed tail.

More simply in Egypt, Sphinx sculptures are found to have the body of what is assumed to be a lion with the head of a human.

In the Oedipus legend, the creature was sent by the gods to punish the Thebans for the wrongdoings of their king, Laius.

She would ask every traveller passing towards Thebes a riddle and then throttle and devour  on the spot those who answered it wrong.

Ancient Greek Sphinx

The Source Quotes
  1. David Fincher: We definitely made it totally asexual although
    we did give it Michelle Pfeiffer lips (laughs). That's what they're based on. It's always had these little thin lips and I said to Giger, 'Let's make it a woman when it comes right up to Ripley.' So it has these lips that go back, these big, luscious collagen lips. Although I never saw the Alien as sexual really (Starburst  - Special #15 - Monster Special, p15)
  2. Gillis: David also wanted to see more of a face on this creature, while calling for the lips to be a little more fleshy. He kept joking that he wanted Michelle Pfeiffer's lips (Starburst - Special #13 - Star Trek Special, p51) 
  3. HR Giger: I designed a new creature, which was much more elegant and beastly, compared to my original. It was a four legged alien, more like a lethal feline - a panther or something" (Source?)
    Alien 3 sketch, p64 Giger's film design
    Giger's word list for the alien 3 creature  including the word "Spinx" which suggests that
    he had that idea in mind all along
  4. RIPLEY: It's like a lion.  It sticks close to the zebras. 
    (p52 of the 16/l/1991 version of the script by Giler and Hill)

  5. Richard Edlund: So what we had to do was come up with a style of motion for the Alien because  it would now be a creature that no one had seen move before, and frankly some  of the early tests we did were pretty exasperatingly hilarious  [laughs]. It looked pretty stupid in some of those shots, and it was looking like a bunny rabbit for a while. Then we studied cougars and cats which have this wonderful motion, but they didn't have the same muscular physique as the alien. So basically we tried to copy a few animals that we admired the motion of, and in the end, I think what happened was we tried to copy a number of movements and then we happened onto our own look, so we were able to develop a motion that worked pretty well and since the alien was able to walk on the floor, ceilings and walls, we had a couple of different modes of running. (Starbust Special #14, p59)
  6. See the book Robert Graves Greek Myths for more information about this Sphinx

    Fernand Khnopff's symbolist version of the sphinx of a sphinx in "The Caress" (1896).


  1. The description of the Runner as a Sphinx actually appears on Giger's sketch:

    "Spinx power speed elegance asthetic," he writes.

  2. That's good news. I can alter the article now it's already official in Giger's work

  3. You should check out Giger's 'Death No 348' for a very sphinx-like precedent to the runner.

  4. Thankypu, yes, that is sphinx-like enough definitely. I also like his work 444 that has a definite sphinx merged in with the biomechanic patterns