Back in 1961, Stanley Kubrick dreamed of making a sprawling epic about Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, a film that has now been dubbed “the greatest movie never made.” Despite this glowing promise of greatness, none of the major studios took him up on his idea, and without funding, the project remained on the shelf. Now, Kubrick’s pet project is becoming reality as a high-profile miniseries at HBO with Steven Spielberg adopting the endeavor as producer — and they’ve tapped Baz Luhrmann to direct.
Kubrick’s vision for the story of the French dictator was left behind in the form of extensive research files, including location photos, notes, boxes upon boxes of details — enough for a book to be written about everything he compiled while writing the screenplay; he really wanted to make this film. But at the time, the biopic was deemed too expensive by studios and he went on to make Barry Lyndon (set 15 years prior to the Napoleonic Wars) instead — not such a shabby alternative. But it’s not certain if the new team will have access to Kubrick’s files to use for the series, or if they’ll even be mimicking his same vision when it comes to translating the film to television. If Luhrmann does direct, it’s no secret that his take on Kubrick’s screenplay would differ greatly from the late director’s original vision.
Though the deal hasn’t been locked down yet, it’s exciting to ponder what a Luhrmann filter on a Kubrick work will look like, especially on something that’s likely going to be less whimsical and more battle-filled. We already know that Luhrmann has spectacular creative vision (and shoots a beautiful France); say what you will about The Great Gatsby or Australia — the man does know how to create a gorgeous world full of vibrant people. His version of the military leader is probably going to be an over-the-top, awful little man surrounded by beautiful costumes and saturated sets. There is sure to be some pressure, however, when handling what is essentially Kubrick’s baby; it will be fascinating to see what elements of his original research tome are employed throughout the miniseries (no word yet on the length) and if there are any nods to his style used.
The HBO miniseries also happens to not be the only Napoleon-themed project in the works right now. Warner Bros. is in the middle of developing the very fake-sounding Scarface-style Napoleon, directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman). While “Scarface-style” could mean pretty much anything (Does Napoleon live in Miami? Is it going to be playing on the TV in every rapper’s house featured on Cribs?), the HBO-Spielberg-potentially Luhrmann team should feel safe knowing that their Kubrick project will likely come out on top.