At long last, a ‘Foundation’
In 1951, Isaac Asimov first published his legendary science fiction epic, Foundation, the first of the trilogy, followed by Foundation and Empire in 1952 and Second Foundation in 1953.
Originally published as a series of short stories in the 1940s, the Foundation series—expanded later with a string of prequels and sequels—became Asimov's greatest contribution to the genre and remains, to this day, one of the greatest reads for any SF connoisseur.
Nearly seven decades and many attempts later, the books that inspired modern classics like Dune and Star Wars are set to be adapted for the screen as a television series on Apple TV+.
Boasting a spectacular cast and a formidable team of showrunners at the helm, the Foundation TV series is slated for release on September 24 this year. From the cast to the plot and everything in between, here's everything we know so far and more:
What is Foundation about?
Foundation tells the story of the fall of a galactic empire set in the far future, and how a group of mathematicians known as psychohistorians, led by Hari Seldon, attempt to save the future of humanity by setting up two 'Foundations' (groups of scientists and engineers) at opposite ends of the galaxy.
The core premise of the series centres around the concept of 'psychohistory', a fictional branch of scientific studies that allows the prediction of the future, and a group of exiled scientists' perilous journey to save human civilisation.
Sprawling over hundreds of years, and spread over multiple novels, the Foundation series explores the fascinating tale of a galactic civilisation in an unfathomable scale.
The screen adaptation journey
The epic sci-fi saga that served as the bedrock for hits like the Star Wars franchise has, naturally, witnessed numerous attempts at big screen adaptations. But the story of Foundation's journey to screen is nothing less than a tale itself.
In 1998, New Line Cinema first attempted to turn the original Foundation trilogy into a film series. The project failed to materialise and was picked up again in 2008, first by Warner Bros., and later by Columbia Pictures in 2009.
HBO later acquired the rights to the series in 2014 after a troubled production journey and the Academy Award-nominated Jonathan Nolan was said to helm it. But that, too, failed.
After this many attempts, Foundation was written off by critics as a truly 'unfilmable' book. But in 2017, the potential franchise saw another light of hope when it was reported that Skydance Television was developing the adaptation with Davis S Goyer (Man of Steel, Blade) and Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds, Avatar 2) as lead writers.
In 2018, however, it was announced that Apple had bought the rights to the TV show and continued production with the same writers onboard. Friedman eventually left the production but Apple brought in Robyn Asimov, the late author's daughter, as an executive producer, and the series was given a green signal for a first season consisting of ten episodes.
The 'unfilmable' book
Part of the reason why the series was termed 'unfilmable' is the sheer scale and volume of the story. The first novel alone unfolds a slow-burn plot sprawling over 200 years, in a fictional galaxy with over 25 million inhabited planets.
Taking the entire series into account, along with the prequels, sequels, and the integrated Robot series, the story of Foundation is spread over tens of thousands of years—a daunting task for any screen adaptation with a limited run-time.
Another reason why Foundation is so difficult to capture on screen is that, unlike the science fiction titles it inspires, Foundation is not a straight-forward action-packed story. It has little violence to show and zero to none intergalactic space wars with spaceships hurling lasers at each other that will translate gloriously on screen.
Instead, the beauty of Foundation's story lies in politics and conflicts of ideologies—a rather dull prospect to focus on for modern sci-fi dramas.
What to expect
So far, the trailers have shown us only glimpses of what to expect. The star-studded cast includes Jed Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) as Hari Seldon, Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit) and Laura Birn (A Walk Among the Tombstones), among others, in prominent roles.
The trailers don't reveal much except for stunning visuals and a gorgeous world-building on an epic scale that surely reminds one of the world building of Ridley Scott's Raised by Wolves that came out in 2020.
As for how the space opera will truly fare, we have to wait for the series to premiere and judge for ourselves. Until then, it's never too late to revisit the novels for a refresher.
Zarif Faiaz is sub editor of Toggle, The Daily Star.
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