When I started my PhD, little did I think that I would be pawing through Stanley Kubrick’s original notebooks and other written ephemera related to the unfinished [for Kubrick] film AI: Artificial Intelligence. Let’s face it, I didn’t think anyone would let me get my grubby little student hands anywhere near anything belonging to Kubrick, not without going through some trails by decontamination first.AI Poster

Of course Kubrick is renowned for movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange, but it is the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence that fits loosely into my area of PhD research. It is about an unreliable protagonist, a robot boy who isn’t entirely sure he’s a robot at first, nor that he isn’t an individual, who on realising this information wants to become a real boy and sets off across sci-fi noir landscape on this quest.

[Actually it is debate-able in the final film, which was finished by Steven Spielberg that David, the robot, is the only protagonist. It feels to me that David’s “mother,” Monica, is just as much of a protagonist in the first section of the film as he is. The unsatisfying feeling I get  during resolution and quest of the movie stems from the fact that Monica’s goal, her story, is not fully explored. Although for this post that’s beside the point – what was I saying about PhDs and focus?]

The year that Kubrick bought the rights for Super Toys Last All Summer Long from Brian Aldiss was 1982, the year Blade Runner was released in the cinema. It was with Aldiss that Kubrick began work on the screen idea [thanks for the term, Ian McDonald] that would become the Spielberg film A.I.

There were multiple writers brought onto the project and, after re-watching the film, I was interested to get a little taster of different drafts that eventually evolved into the final movie. As a screenwriter myself, I find it fascinating to see the different ways a script story develops from the original idea, through the influence of directors/producers/studios and even actors, to the final product.

Naturally I was a little excited, in what I hope wasn’t too obviously a fangirl kind of way, to be entering the Kubrick Archive at the London College of Communication. The room itself even threw off a Kubrickian aura, white being the dominant colour, clean lines, glass partitions and a luminous ceiling. It was like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey and I was well on my way to a little researcher heaven when the trolley arrived with, as I’d been warned, the un-catalogued material on A.I.

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2001:A Space Odyssey

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The Stanley Kubrick Archives

There was more material than I imagined and, excitingly for me, most of it different drafts of the scripts. Unfortunately the material was not in chronological order so a later draft from 1999 was mixed in with something from 1990.

In hindsight, the logical thing to do would have been to get all the scripts onto a table and order them before starting to read. But it was my first foray into the world of the academic researcher so I picked up the box nearest me and just about managed to work through it. This gave me a flavour of the collection.

  • Cue cards covered with Kubrick’s mostly legible scrawl, questioning key points, brainstorming scenes, locations, characters and especially character motivations.
  • Notebooks filled with slightly less legible scrawl again showing Kubrick’s mind at work on the project, locating the plot holes, the places where pace dies in various earlier drafts and trying to find ways to fix the problems.
  • Script drafts and script-ments [these feel part way between a screenplay and a treatment]. I looked at two different script-ments by Ian Watson.

The first scriptment, Foxtrot, was a long way from the final film and I feel shows a lot of influence from the cyberpunk novels of the 1980s like William Gibson’s Neuromancer. There was a voice over, noir narration from a super artificial intelligence which reminded me of Wintermute in Gibson’s book. The untrustworthy narrator of this version really caught my interest as it fits into one of patterns I am exploring in posthuman noir science fiction films and anime. The scriptment read more like a sci-fi novel than a script and with that carried an  unfilmable quality, some scenes would certainly be difficult to get into a PG or even a 12 certificate film.

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Rouge City in the final film of A.I – the dark cyberpunk influence remaining from Watson’s first story idea

As a story, though, Foxtrot was a compelling and complex look into the relationship between humans and their robotic creations. The obsession of a little boy to become the person his mother wants him to be, a ‘real boy,’ and the dawning of childhood’s end.  The imagery and set pieces were mind-blowingly creative, making me feel a bit tame in the way I approach screen stories.

In another link to my PhD research, this scipt-ment by Ian Watson’s first stab involved multiple references to Japanese language and culture, like the cyberpunks fictions of the 1980s and 90s. So far, so exciting – for me, anyway.

When I’d found myself connected to the interwebs later, I discovered Foxtrot was a short story Watson was commissioned to write as a sample piece before he was hired to work on A.I. You can read the full article about his experience working on A.I. on Ian Watson’s website.

The second script by Ian Watson, dated around 1993, was far closer to the film made. It has the figure of Gigolo Joe and the locations of Rouge City and the Heavy Flesh Festivals. The super-A.I. is gone, Teddy is spared his Wintermute styled AI possession, and the journey David, the robot boy, takes follows a similar pattern to the film.

There is one character, a female recluse who hates humans, who Kubrick has copious notes about but who clearly will never make it to the end. As I closed the box for the day it was she who was playing very vividly on Stanley’s Kubrick’s mind.

More to come in Visiting the Kubrick Archive – Part Two...

Details of the Kubrick Archive:

Location: University Archives and Special Collections Centre
London College of Communication
Elephant and Castle
London
SE1 6SB

Website: http://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/library-services/collections-and-archives/archives-and-special-collections-centre/stanley-kubrick-archive/

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  1. […] part one I set up the reason for my visit to the Kubrick Archive and highlighted one of the first drafts of […]

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