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Spielberg Developing Kubrick’s Napoleon

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In an interview with French TV network Canal+, Steven Spielberg spoke about producing a Napoleon miniseries based on Stanley Kubrick’s script written 40 years ago.

(NYTimes) While another collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg would seem to require a time machine, a Ouija board or some sort of interdimensional extraterrestrial monolith, plans are nonetheless underway for these two celebrated filmmakers to work together again…

“I’ve been developing Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay for a miniseries, not for a motion picture, about the life of Napoleon,” Mr. Spielberg said in the interview. “Kubrick wrote the script in 1961, long time ago, and the Kubrick family — because we made ‘A.I.’ together — the Kubrick family and I, and the next project we’re working on is a miniseries, is going to be ‘Napoleon.’”

Mr. Kubrick, who died in 1999, spent years researching Napoleon, reviewing more than 18,000 documents and books while assembling a card file that cataloged every significant moment in the French leader’s life.

It was announced in 1968 that Mr. Kubrick would direct “Napoleon” for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; then in 1970 it was reported that he had put that project on the back burner in favor of “A Clockwork Orange.”

In 1972, Mr. Kubrick (who had not yet made “Barry Lyndon” at the time) told Sight & Sound magazine that “there has never been a great historical film” and that he still intended to make “Napoleon.” But the project was never realized.

Of course, this isn’t the first posthumous Kubrick/Spielberg collaboration.

Development of A.I. originally began with director Stanley Kubrick in the early 1970s. Kubrick hired a series of writers up until the mid-1990s, including Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland. The film languished in development hell for years, partly because Kubrick felt computer-generated imagery was not advanced enough to create the David character, whom he believed no child actor would believably portray. In 1995, Kubrick handed A.I. to Spielberg, but the film did not gain momentum until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Spielberg remained close to Watson’s film treatment for the screenplay. The film was greeted with generally favorable reviews from critics and grossed approximately $235 million. A small credit appears after the end credits, which reads “For Stanley Kubrick.” (wiki)

21 Comments on this Post

  1. interesting… a lot of people consider A.I. to be one of speilberg’s strongest films as a director and wasn’t that from an original kubrick idea/script?

  2. Kevin Klawitter

    @Drake:

    Yeah. It was another Kubrick dream project, and he hand-picked Spielberg to help him finish it. When it was first released, it got some flack because people assumed Spielberg made it too “Spielberg-y” and “sentimental”, which is really ironic because all of the sentimental elements (Pinnochio, etc.) were from Kubrick’s original script. Spielberg added the darker elements like the Flesh Fairs.

    I’m really excited for this Napoleon project. The big question is, I guess, whether or not Spielberg is only going to produce it or if he’s going to direct it, too. He certainly has a good track record as a producer for miniseries, but it’d be really interesting to see what he could do as a director of the format.

  3. absolutely, drake. I meant to mention that at the end of the Times excerpt but forgot. Added another paragraph to the post above now.

  4. Christophe

    the script is great but i’m afraid it’ll get watered down if spielberg turns it into a mini-series, it would’ve been an amazing feature film but a mini series? we’ll have to wait and see, if it ever gets done, spielberg has so many projects, it could remain in development for ever. I read abt a similar docu-series project a few months back, it was also based on the kubrick script but it sounded even worse than spielberg’s endeavour, so i guess the kubrick family decided to backtrack on that one and give it to spielberg.

  5. steve50

    This is great news.

    Because we’ll never see Kubrick’s vision, I would hope (against hope) that Spielberg can engage a few A-list directors to each do an episode and put their own take on the material, just to keep it interesting. The different stages of NBs life would suit this approach perfectly.

    Can you imagine – a four parter, 8 hr series directed by, say, Spielberg, Fincher, Weir and Frears maybe?

  6. Tero Heikkinen

    Easy to trust this project after seeing Band of Brothers and The Pacific. And apparently Spielberg and Hanks are onto a third series.

    And of course, A.I. is great.

  7. Jonas Grondahl

    I will eagerly anticipate this project. The subject itself, Napoleon and the time period, and Spielberg and Kubrick is a great cocktail.

    As I was reading the news about this earlier, I couldn’t help but think of “Nostromo.”

    I am currently reading the screenplay that David Lean wrote in collaboration with Robert Bolt and it’s a classic Lean story.

    Now what I have been hoping for in a long time, is that Spielberg, given his long time admiration of Lean would produce or direct the story.

    Of course there is the obstacle that Spielberg, didn’t exactly like the screenplay in the first place and that he was taken of the project.

    Sorry for being off topic, but man is it a great script.

  8. thanks for the info ryan and kevin. I really like A.I. Pretty stunning visually. it only got a 65 on metacritic when it was released but i saw it on quite a couple of decade’s best lists. I think it would be a real shame if this doesn’t fall into the hands of the right director (if spielberg doesn’t do it). also, is day-lewis too tall to play Napoleon? haha. mini-series or not- i think with Kubrick’s (and speilberg’s) name you could get a lot of talent involved in this project.

  9. The Pope

    It seems more and more that Spielberg is leaving the action blockbuster and moving into the historical domain. Perhaps the mini-series is the only financially viable option. While I think it would be interesting to get a different director for each episode, it might result in 8 hours of wildly differing styles. Unless of course, everyone is under very strick instructions (a la, House of Cards), to rein in their own flourishes and produce a house style. Of the directors mentioned, the best one would be Stephen Frears. An eminently intelligent man, his view of the world is very similar to Kubrick’s.

    Of course, the problem here is Kubrick himself. Everyone will be comparing it to the film that might have been. And we know that the script that was published would have been profoundly altered along the way. Hate to namedrop, but I met Jan Harlan a few years back and he said that the published screenplay was the one to get the money, after which Kubrick would have rewritten it.

    So, let’s respectfully place his script in a box and let Spielberg develop the project. I have high hopes.

  10. if you can find it, you should check out Taschen’s “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made”. not only does it have the complete shooting script, it also has most (if not all?) of Kubrick’s insanely extensive pre-production material. it cost me quite a bit, but it was certainly worth the price.

    it’ll be interesting to see how closely this version will stick to the old stuff. I’m excited about this.

  11. Aldo, I’ll be THAT guy who thinks that A.I. is Spielberg’s best film.

    And I’m a huge Kubrick fanboy – he’s my all time favourite director.

    Though some people think this is coffin robbery, I am VERY excited that the script is being done with his family’s blessing and by such a gifted filmmaker like Spielberg.

  12. Anyone who’s just interested in the screenplay can find it by googling “Kubrick Napoleon PDF” < -- There's a source where you can download for free

    Andre, I'm sure you know the original Taschen book was a work of art in itself — 9 or 10 books nested inside a larger one.

    It was a limited edition. Only 1000 copies were made. There’s one for sale on eBay right now for $3,500. (free shipping!)

    There’s another oversize edition ~14 x 9 x 3 inches = 344 mm x 211 mm x 76 m – combining all the smaller books into one volume. Reasonable prices range from $45-55. 1112 pages . weighs 10 lbs

  13. steve50

    Thanks for the link, Ryan.

    Back (way back at the beginning) in the day when Kubrick talked about this project, he mentioned using Anthony Burgess’s book Napoleon Symphony as a base point.

    The structure of a symphony – 4 distinct movements – lends itself perfectly to both a mini-series and more than one director.

    Now to go and retrieve that screenplay.

  14. I think Spielberg is still irked by the fact when he adapted Kubrick’s vision, was for the most part faithful, and critics still believed the sentimental, maudlin aspects of AI was all him (when it was the opposite). It is why he went through a decade gap. He was probably sitting on this for a while.

    And good for Spielberg to keep on with the passion projects like Lincoln, like Tintin, and like this.

    People need to get over the fact Spielberg is not always going to be producing popcorn flicks or think that is a bad thing.

  15. Joao Mattos

    Call me one the fans of “A.I.”. Among the top 5 Spielberg. Remember whe was released, that critics like Jonathan Rosembaum love it, which surprises me.
    I have Taschen’s “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made”. Of course, not the Deluxe edition, but the simplified one. Masteful.

  16. Oh, no. Spielberg totally ruined “A.I”. Not again, please.

  17. Ryan, I bought the original one … But I didn’t pay THAT much!!!

    I chuckled heavily when I read the “free shipping” line! =)

  18. castilo

    Spielberg please stop trying to associate yourself with Mr. Kubrick , especially his work regarding L’Empereur .

  19. Bryce Forestieri

    onethis is a test

    one this is a test!!

    one this is a test??

  20. Bryce Forestieri

    Was this ever right?

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