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Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

By RyanVooris

July 8th, 2001

Greetings and Salutations from the FilmJerk bunker.

I've known this young man Ryan now for a couple of years. Even though he's a good decade younger than myself, I still like him because he has a deep appreciation of all things Kubrick. After Stanley's death in 1999, Ryan wrote a Kubrick biography movie for the now defunct Virtual Producer game. This young man was a die hard fan. So a few days ago, he dropped me a line telling me he had some news of Warner Brothers possibly planning to make one of Kubrick's long dormant projects, "Napoleon," he asked me if he could submit a story. Sure, but if he could get his hands on the screenplay, I would love to get his views on the story. Well, damnit if he did whatever networking he needed to do to get his hands on the script. Before I hand this over to Ryan, a request... do not contact us asking for a copy of the screenplay. Do not ask us for Ryan's email so you can ask him yourself. As Ryan reports, the screenplay was available at one time on a screenplay repository website but removed at the request of the Kubrick family. If you really want it, I'm sure you can find a way to get it. We're just not going to help you, got it?


Having seen the masterpiece that is "AI," I went inquiring for other un-produced works by my favorite Director Stanley Kubrick. I had heard some time ago that Mr. Kubrick had planned to make a film based on the life of Napoleon. The project, as many of his did, had consumed him for years on end before he was forced to abandon it. Contacting some friends with vast resources, I landed my nicotine stained hands on a copy of a screenplay of "Napoleon" authored by Stanley Kubrick. The script was once located on the Internet but is no longer available at the request of the Kubrick family.

The script, dated September 29, 1969, runs 148 pages and follows the life of General Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick credits nearly 500 books on the life of the general as his historical education. Kubrick's touches are all over the script. It is certainly the grandest project he ever took on. The large production costs the film might have incurred are the main reason the studios shut it down. A number of large battle sequences are elegantly described and detailed. My film loving heart wonders what kind combat sequences he would have painted. Certainly, it would have looked nothing like "The Patriot," coming from the same general period. The meat of the script is in the relationship between Napoleon and his wife Josephine. I felt a felting glance of the kind of interrelationship tangle Kubrick later wove into "Eyes Wide Shut." The scenes involving the two are well written and reveal the heart of Napoleon's character.

Kubrick's artistic touch is seen throughout the scripts. Along with the grandiose battle scenes, Kubrick seems to be dreaming of great sets to shoot as he writes his script. There is an intoxicating bedroom design of Josephine's that consists of a bedroom entirely covered in mirrors. Kubrick stages a number of love scenes in here and in one case adds a very Kubrickian note at the end of one: MAXIMUM EROTICA.

Kubrick's talent was not in the writing department for most of his career. He often worked tirelessly with co-writers, exchanging drafts, rewrites and ideas. This script bears only his name and shows it in many places. The dialogue is often very weak and Napoleon's rise to fame is accomplished too swiftly. This leads to a very slow and confusing start to the film as characters and quick set pieces dance in and out of the script. Yet, by the beginning of the films 2nd act I was engaged. Napoleon's letters to his wife were the main cause of this. It is here that we really begin to learn about the man who is so successful on the battlefield.

However it is the strength of Kubrick's visualizations that really caught my attention. His detail of battle strategies and there executions are flawless.

At the script's conclusion Kubrick has provided seven pages of detailed production notes. They include some interesting tidbits: his intention to shoot 1.3 minutes of film per day, over a half a year in five different countries. Kubrick's attention to detail can be seen as he takes extra care to describe the various uniforms of the many armies in the film. He apparently went as far as to meet with representatives from Romania and Italy to discuss using their military as extras. He also details firms in New York that can produce uniforms for the movie at a reduced price, since he does not see the logic in renting uniforms for such an extended shoot. (The studio must have loved this).

As for the all-important casting of the title role, Kubrick plainly states he would not like to see a leading Hollywood star play the role. He states:, "I want an actor between 20-35 who has the good looks of the younger Napoleon and who can be aged and made up to look like the older Napoleon. He should be able to convey the restless energy, the callousness, the inflexible will... also (his) tremendous charm."

All this reveals the extreme care Kubrick took to this project. At the end of the script is detailed a number of steps he took in pre-production. It appears the film was very close to actually going to the full production stage. Everything from the lenses he needed to the films Art Director seem to be in place according to the Production Notes. So what happened?

Since Kubrick led a very withdrawn life not much is known about him and his projects. We do know however that he went on to film "A Clockwork Orange" in 1970 and release the acclaimed film in 1971. So somewhere in-between the dating of the screenplay, September 1969, and soon there after his interests changed. What he did produce consequently can certainly raise few objections. (Editor's note: Michel Ciment's long out of print 1980 book Kubrick goes into some detail about a number of aborted Kubrick projects, including details from several interviews Ciment had with Kubrick which are printed in the book. I had to spend a pretty penny to acquire a copy for my own collection.)

The details that are available make the case plain; the vast production which Napoleon would have become simply hobbled the project. Yet, Kubrick never gave it up, continuing on planning to make the film until the time of his death. Napoleon was Kubrick's hero and he never let die his desire to produce the film. He was one who could not live with failure and the non-production of "Napoleon" has gone down as one of the great tragedies of cinematic history.

I have learned however that Warner Brothers is planning to produce the film based on Kubrick's script. Details are sketchy and no director has been announced yet. However the Internet is a vast and wonderful place and I have learned of rumors that Ridley Scott is interested in the script. Almost no details exist yet to confirm or deny this rumor, but it certainly is an interesting one.

It is apparent however that Warner Brothers is moving ahead with production on Napoleon and a number of other Kubrick projects including "The Aryan Papers" and Foucault's "Pendulum." The success of "AI" and the intense interest in Kubrick are obvious reasons for this. However part of me wishes to see Kubrick's work remain as is, a piece of tragic forgotten majesty scrawled on paper. Then again if there anything as chilling and marvelous as "AI," I might give that a second thought.

Ridley Scott doing Kubrick... oh, man. I don't know if the masses would be able to handle that. I know it's something I would rush out to see. "Napoleon" needs a fearless filmmaker, and in my humble opinion, Ridley Scott is the only current filmmaker who could pull it off with any modicum of success.

The ever elusive Mr. X wanted to add something into the mix about the Napoleon story. How hot has this project become? Ridley Scott isn't the only one taking a long hard look. Seems none other than Brian DePalma sees this to be the one film which can get his moribund career back on track after twenty years of crap, and may be trying to buy the rights to the screenplay directly from the Kubrick family.

That is just so wrong.

My rating: A