Oh-ho-ho. Madman Stephen Spielberg announced this morning that he has decided to do the impossible. Picking up where Stanley Kubrick left off four decades ago, Spielberg is going to film a sprawling mini-series biopic of Napoleon. Spielberg is a genius at bringing impossible films to life—he made Tintin, for god's sake!—but so was Kubrick, and the little Corsican beat him. I just wonder if maybe Spielberg shouldn't have started with something easier—like bringing Kubrick back to life.
Why was the project snakebit?
Rare among visionaries for actually making his epic dreams come true—consider 2001, Spartacusand Barry Lyndon—with Napoleon, Kubrick reached higher than ever before. Over two years of intensive research, he employed dozens of assistants, eventually producing thousands of pages of notes and tens of thousand location stills—a treasure trove that was recently assembled in a very expensive, very pretty book. In a typically modest letter to his producers, he made the famous claimthat, “It’s impossible to tell you what I’m going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made.”
To defray the cost of his cast of thousands, Kubrick planned to film his interiors in France and his battle sequences in Romania, breaking production up into thirds to allow for added planning time. His plan was to “shoot with available light” and “exploit the fully dressed interiors of the period which are readily available in France,” suggesting the movie might have had the dreamy look he later used to bring Barry Lyndon’s eighteenth century alive. His proposed budget was $4 million—impossibly low, considering that the comparatively simple 2001 cost over $10 million. Sensing madness, Hollywood finally pulled the plug.
Although I haven't read any of that very expensive, very beautiful book, I've been curious about this movie for a long time. I'm not sure if I'd rather Spielberg fail to finish the movie by attempting to do justice to Kubrick's vision, or succeed by ignoring all of the dead man's hard work. Thankfully, it's not my problem.