Writer's Note: This is a commentary.
Steven Spielberg had a glowing respect for Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker and the man, especially since the two men had a near 20-year friendship. According to a 1999 interview Spielberg gave for a British reporter on Kubrick's life, they maintained a regular correspondence - even as the New York-based Kubrick was living in London (where he resided for most of the second half of his life). In that same talk, Spielberg noted Kubrick's reputation as one of the best craftsmen in the film industry.
Soon one of Kubrick's unrealized projects may soon be in the hands of Spielberg to helm - and it wouldn't be the first time.
Several published reports are indicating Spielberg will develop a television miniseries on the life of the legendary French leader Napoleon Bonaparte - from his rise as the powerful European emperor he became to his glorious fall in Waterloo and his exile on the island of Elba. The idea was originally developed by Kubrick in the late 1960s, with the film intended as his follow-up to his legendary science fiction opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. A 1969 draft of Napoleon had Kubrick showing off the leader's life in exquisite and pain-staking detail - from the costumes of the period to the plans he had for the massive battle sequences. That drive to be as historically accurate as a filmmaker could get may have led to MGM pulling the plug before a single frame of film could be shot. Kubrick would ultimately go on to follow 2001 with his 1971 ultraviolent masterpiece A Clockwork Orange.
This would be the second project Spielberg has rescued from Kubrick's lost works, with the first one starting out as a collaborative effort. During the 1980s and 1990s, Kubrick had worked on creating the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, an adaptation of Brian Aldiss' short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long - about a young robot who goes on an adventure to become a human boy to satisfy his adoptive mother. With Haley Joel Osment as the Pinocchio-like robot and Jude Law as a mecha gigolo who joins him along the way, Spielberg was tapped by Kubrick to direct - while the latter would produce. Kubrick's death in 1999 ended any hopes of his involvement, leaving Spielberg to shepherd the work himself in honor of his friend. A.I. became a critical and commercial success when released in 2001, though die-hard fans of both directors wondered which elements of the film were Kubrick's, were Spielberg's, or perhaps a little bit of both.
At this point, Spielberg is only listed as developing the project - so it's not clear if he will be just an executive producer, as he had done for previous miniseries like Taken, Into the West and Band of Brothers. Yet if there is anyone who can take on such an ambitious and very expensive work, even with another filmmaking legend's name attached, it has to be Spielberg to take that risk. He may see Napoleon as another way of honoring one of his fellow filmmakers, and it allows him another opportunity to challenge the form of the TV miniseries - and also of the historical biopic. If Spielberg can somehow make Abraham Lincoln's last months into a powerful must-see film, why not give Napoleon the same type of scope?
While details on the planned miniseries remain small at the time of this writing, there should be excitement for fans of both Spielberg and Kubrick over the Napoleon project being resurrected. The work Kubrick had put into it throughout the 1960s will finally get some use after all, with the aid of one of the industry's most successful directors. Just as he had done with Kubrick's plans for A.I., Spielberg will look to give the same care to his predecessor's work - while adding his own creative touches to the project. If the right cast and right look all come together, Napoleon may shape up to be one of the biggest and best miniseries in history - and Spielberg would provide another exciting footnote to Kubrick's landmark career.