Right on the heels of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Stanley Kubrick planned one of the grandest, if not the most ambitious, films of his entire career. “Napoleon” was to be the movie to top all movies. Kubrick’s biopic was envisioned as a massive epic, simultaneously a deep character study of the French military leader and a sweeping war saga. The sky was the unconquerable limit for the film, on which Kubrick was aggressively entrenched in pre-production.
The scope and scale of the work that went into readying the film is almost incomprehensible. For one, Kubrick amassed roughly 15,000 location scouting photos. The Romanian Army committed 50,000 men to the production — 40,000 infantrymen and 10,000 cavalry — to participate in battle scenes. And Kubrick had dreams of Audrey Hepburn as Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife.
Despite the fact that “Napoleon” was a production-ready project, it ultimately proved never-to-be. As if the film’s immense budget was not deterrent enough, studios feared waning audience interest in historical epics at the time. More so, Sergey Bondarchuk’s 1970 Napoleon biopic, “Waterloo,” died at the box office, despite a strong critical reception, pouring additional salt on the wound.
Even though we’ll never get to see “Napoleon” as Kubrick imagined it, that doesn’t mean we can’t get close. For starters, anyone and everyone can read the full script online and experience Kubrick’s vision for him or her self. How would Kubrick have opened a film about one of Europe’s most important historical political and military minds? Thusly…
INT. BEDROOM CORSICA – NIGHT
A well-worn teddy-bear is cradled in the arms of Napoleon, age 4, who dreamily sucks his thumb, listening to a bedtime story told by his young mother, Letizia. His 5-year-old brother, Joseph, is already asleep, beside him.
Furthermore, a Steven Spielberg-produced mini-series based on the late writer-director’s script, with Baz Luhrmann attached to direct, was in development a couple years back, but not much has been heard about it since.
Be sure to read the script (all 154 pages of it), and if you’re curious to know more about the project, check out Alison Castle’s 2011 book, “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made,” an 1100-page tome on the film, it’s promise, and it’s ultimate fate.
Script removed by request of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.