AI - the film stanley kubrick never made

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September 5 1999

Close encounters: Kubrick was in frequent telephone contact with his friend Steven Spielberg and had suggested that Spielberg direct his next project, AI

Spielberg to take charge of unfinished Kubrick movie

by Richard Brooks

STEVEN SPIELBERG is being lined up to direct what would have been Stanley Kubrick's next film project - the tale of a young "robot" boy that he likened to the story of Pinocchio.

Kubrick's family and Warner Brothers, the studio with whom he worked for many years, appear keen that Spielberg should take on the film. Kubrick died last March just days after completing Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, which opens in Britain this week. Before his death, however, he had lengthy and detailed talks about the planned film with Spielberg, whose film ET epitomised his ability to combine science-fiction with fairy-tales.

Kubrick, the eccentric American-born director who had lived in Britain for 30 years and was noted for his critically acclaimed but controversial films, and Spielberg, a successful maker of commercial Hollywood movies, had been close friends since 1980. Yet their friendship and mutual respect was a secret from all but a few. The first public clue to the strength of their relationship came after Kubrick's death, when Spielberg flew from America to attend his friend's small and private funeral.

They were so close that Spielberg would send a print of his latest movie to Kubrick in England before showing it even to the studio. "But Stanley would never show me his beforehand," said Spielberg.

In the early 1990s, Kubrick agreed to drop another film he was working on, 'Wartime Lies', because of the similarity of its theme to Schindler's List, which won seven Oscars for Spielberg in 1993. Kubrick's script was primarily about a Jewish woman and her child who were being persecuted by the Nazis.

The two men - rated by many as the top American directors of the past 35 years - were both obsessed with the minutiae of film-making. "We were on the phone together for 18 years," joked Spielberg, currently involved in making the third Jurassic Park movie and an adaptation of the best-selling book 'Memoirs of a Geisha'.

Spielberg has confirmed that he has read "the very long treatment" as well seen the storyboards for AI, the working title of Kubrick's last movie which deals, in part, with artificial intelligence. "Stanley said, 'Why don't I produce it and you direct it?'," said Spielberg.

Kubrick's family approves of the prospect of Spielberg taking over AI. Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and executive producer on The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, said Spielberg was the ideal director. "He would bring out both the human and the philosophical side of the story."

Kubrick became interested in AI nearly 30 years ago when he read Brian Aldiss's short story, 'Super Toys Last All Summer Long'. He bought it from the writer in 1982. Aldiss's story tells of a childless woman who adopts an android that resembles a five-year-old boy. Although the robot is programmed not to know he is not a boy, the woman finds she cannot love him.

Aldiss likewise found it hard to accept Kubrick. "I told Stanley that I could not get to grips with his approach," Aldiss tells a Channel 4 documentary on Kubrick, which is being shown tonight. Aldiss, who has written more than 30 books, was particularly troubled when Kubrick suggested that the movie's storyline should have an analogy with Pinocchio.

Neither Warners nor Spielberg will divulge any more of the story of AI, but The Sunday Times has established that Kubrick had done tests with robots, had shot some footage involving a child actor, and had a provisional budget of more than $100m. The budget for Eyes Wide Shut was $60m.

It was rumoured that Aphex Twin would compose film's musical score, and the visual artist and video director Chris Cunningham had created some preliminary sketches for AI.

'The Last Movie', the Channel 4 documentary, also reveals why Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange, his most controversial film. His widow, Christiane, says the family received many death threats and took the advice of the police to take the film out of distribution. "We even got sent a brown paper bag with a ticking clockwork orange inside," she says.

The Aldiss story behind AI is 'Super Toys Last All Summer Long', published in 1969. It is about a withdrawn English boy named David and his talking teddy bear, which is actually a robot that was given to the boy by his worried parents for therapeutic purposes. At the end of the story, the reader discovers that David is also a robot, a sophisticated model that is supposed to behave like a real child but that can't please the childless couple who purchased him, despite the teddy bear's coaching.


By now the story was filled with incident: David was the first of a new model of robot able to feel emotions. He could be programmed to love the couple that owned him, though he could not love others. David had been acquired by an unhappy couple whose only child suffered from an incurable disease and had been cryogenically preserved. The parents were not allowed to have another child.

When a medical breakthrough allows the daughter to be thawed out and cured, David becomes redundant, and after a period of intense sibling rivalry, the mother decides to get rid of him. She sets David loose, but to assuage her sense of guilt, she tells him that he can return when he becomes a real boy.

David's quest eventually takes him to a drowned New York City, where he finds the Pinocchio booth at Coney Island, complete with a model of the Blue Fairy, which David regards with reverential wonder. The story then jumps ahead thousands of years, to a future in which robots populate the world and humans are long extinct. David is discovered, his battery worn down, and revived by these inheritors of the Earth, who regard him as a link with a mythological past.


It was the relationship between David and his mother that most occupied Kubrick and Ms. Maitland. An alcoholic whose Bloody Marys David would mix for her in a vain attempt to win her affection, the mother was the emotional center of the film.

At the story's conclusion, the robots that have inherited the Earth use David's memories to reconstruct, in virtual form, the apartment where he had lived with his parents. Because his memories are subjective, the mother is much more vividly realized than the father, and his stepsister's room is not there at all; it is just a hole in the wall.

For Ms. Maitland, the film would end with David preparing a Bloody Mary for his mother, the juice a brighter red than in real life: "He hears her voice, and that's it. We don't see him turn to see her." Kubrick, however, wanted a coda in which the new race of robots, because of a technological limitation, cannot keep the the mother alive after reviving her. The movie would end with David in his mother's bedroom, watching her slowly disappear.

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