The only "unmade" Kubrick project to get produced so far, this is still a sore spot for many fans of the filmmaker, with many perhaps unfairly criticizing Steven Spielberg for supposedly softening what they feel would have been darker story under Kubrick's guidance. But that isn't necessarily the case.
The film, about an 11-year-old boy robot who longs to be real and earn the love of his human “mother,” first came onto Kubrick’s slate in the 1970s when he commissioned Brian Aldiss, who wrote the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” to pen a treatment. As always, development continued over the years, and it’s widely believed Kubrick was waiting for the right technology to come along to make the movie, but according to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography” his interested was reignited in the material thanks to something else.
The director was approached by producer Julia Phillips to make “Interview With A Vampire,” with financing coming from record mogul David Geffen. He declined, but he decided to take another stab at the fantasy genre with ‘Super-Toys’ and rang up Aldiss once again. The two had previously disagreed on how to approach the material back in the ‘70s, with Aldiss sharing: “Stanley was intrigued by the story, but then ‘Star Wars’ came out...and it was clear he was very jealous of ‘Star Wars.’ He didn’t think it was as good as ‘2001.’"
Kubrick wished to make a better sci-fi film, but Aldiss soon saw through his intentions. “He said that what we really wanted was a whole lot of archetypical situations: a poor young boy who somehow had to make good, and had to fight some terrible evil in order to win the hand of the princess. Then we realized we were actually describing ‘Star Wars.’"
But this time around they would wind up even further apart, as Aldiss claims that the influence of “E.T.” inspired Kubrick to take the movie into the territory of fable. “I couldn’t see how we could turn this vignette into a film. We stuck at it for a while, but it wasn’t working. Then, gradually, I realised; this wasn’t ‘Star Wars,’ it wasn’t ‘E.T.’ It was fucking ‘Pinocchio’! The Blue Fairy! I worked with him for about six weeks, and I couldn’t get rid of that Blue Fairy.”
Aldiss stayed on to consult, and Kubrick dialed up Arthur C. Clarke for his input, and on his suggestion Bob Shaw was brought in to help with the script. According to Shaw, Kubrick gave him a copy of Aldiss' story, “Pinocchio,” and the book “Mind Children” by famed robotics and artificial intelligence professor/scientist Hans Moravec, noting that he wanted elements from all in the script that would now center on David’s father, some kind of robotic butler.
That idea was scrapped, and after sci-fi writer Ian Watson made an attempt with the material, it was author Sara Maitland who refocused the story on David and his mother. And what she came up with was slightly different than what finally appeared on film. In her version David’s mother is an alcoholic, and the film ends with David once again experiencing a reconstructed memory sequence, with the young boy making his mother a Bloody Mary one last time, something he did through his life to try and earn her love.
But according to Maitland, who recounts to the New York Times that Kubrick “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.”
Maitland didn’t like this twist. "It must have been a very strong visual thing for him, because he wasn't usually stupid about story,” she said. “He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen when I told him, 'You can have a failed quest, but you can't have an achieved quest and no reward.'"
According to Richard Brooks of The Sunday Times, in addition to a treatment, Kubrick had also done tests with robots and even shot early footage with a young actor (who many believe was Joseph Mazzello, who was also cast in Kubrick’s aborted “Aryan Papers,” with some reports suggested Kubrick was doing filming every few years). There was a “provisional budget” of $100 million while (unlikely) rumors persisted that Aphex Twin was going to score the movie. However, Chris Cunningham -- the famed music video helmer -- was tapped by Kubrick to create a robot that would “play” the young boy in the main role.
"I spent the entire year just developing this one robot head," Cunningham told the New York Times at Kubrick's home in 1995. Four years later he would direct the robot-centric “All Is Full Of Love” video for Bjork.
Spielberg’s film would eventually tweak Kubrick's desired ending further, with David finally getting the love he sought, and one could argue that given the close relationship between Kubrick and Spielberg, the filmmaker he would have approved. Kubrick actually first offered the movie to Spielberg feeling he would have a better hand on the material, but Spielberg declined, insisting Kubrick should make it. But after the director passed away, the Kubrick family once again approached Spielberg with the material, and this time he accepted, and brought the movie to the multiplex.