Foundation is now showing on Apple TV.
If you thought Dune was the only epic science fiction adaptation in town this Autumn, think again. Apple TV’s adaptation of Issac Asimov’s legendary Foundation is both beautiful, complex and utterly fascinating. To say, David S. Goyer, Josh Friedman, Skydance and Apple took a significant risk on Foundation is an understatement. After all, Asimov’s books have often been called ‘unfilmable’ with several attempts falling into oblivion over the years. Much of this is due to Asimov’s expansive and complicated saga weaving multiple plotlines through a story that spans centuries. Even for passionate science fiction readers, Foundation has often proved a challenge. After all, Asimov’s collection of stories are packed to the brim with political intrigue, complex characters and elaborate world-building. Each book, a single piece of a much larger puzzle. Each character, a complicated embodiment of human behaviour and history.
Issac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia, around 1920, before his family emigrated to the United States in 1923. As a Jew, Asimov watched the Second World War unfold from a safe distance, but the impact of the events surrounding him would find a voice in his writing. Asimov would later become a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and a writer with a deep passion for science fiction.
In sculpting what would become Foundation, Asimov took inspiration from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Arnold Toynbee’s theories on the cycle of history. However, it is also clear from his writing that the battle between fascism and freedom in Europe played a significant role in his story. Foundation began as a series of short stories in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine during the 1940s. But, by 1951, Foundation was a published book, followed by two sequels and two prequels over his lifetime. Asimov died in 1992, but the Foundation story has continued through a range of other authors, each working with the direct blessing of the Asimov estate.
Asimov’s Foundation books encompass four clear themes; empire and corruption, the human longing for continuation, power versus oppression and politics versus science. His groundbreaking work, inspiring science fiction films and books from Star Wars to Dune. However, translating this material for the screen was never going to be easy, so how does Apple TV’s epic ten-part series measure up?
Jared Harris stars in Foundation (Apple TV and Skydance 2021)
Foundation makes one thing clear from its first scene; it is a series to be savoured like a fine wine. Foundation isn’t a watch it and move on TV experience; it demands your attention, commitment, and mind. Like the books, we are offered jumps in time, a diversity of characters and expansive world-building themes; a spectacular mix of Game of Thrones meets Star Wars. Foundation is big, bold and beautiful; its cinematic landscape, both daring and compelling from the outset. In fact, my one criticism is that it often feels restricted by its television roots, the stunning set design, effects and artistry yearning to jump from the small to the big screen. Therefore, my advice is; watch Foundation on the largest screen possible with the best sound you can muster; trust me, it deserves it.
Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) is a mathematician and psychologist living on the imperial planet of Trantor. However, on embracing psychohistory, Seldon challenges the very foundations of the Empire and its genetically engineered Emporer’s Dusk, Dawn and Day. For, Seldon’s mathematical model predicts the collapse of the Galactic Empire and a period of barbarism that will last for 30,000 years. Meanwhile, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), is possibly the only person in the galaxy capable of fully understanding Seldon’s work. But, as she travels from a nearby star to assist Seldon, Gaal is unaware of the trap she is walking into. A trap that Seldon may well have already seen coming through his elaborate mathematical model.
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Goyer and Friedman’s adaptation intends to build upon Asimov’s work rather than offer us a word-for-word adaptation. This helps Foundation build a cohesive onscreen movement and enables it to find a contemporary voice. Here, Goyer and Friedman play with several modern-day political concerns and debates, from climate change to the ever-increasing divide between rich and poor. The result allows Foundation to grow beyond its literary roots. Of course, I have no doubt some fans of the novels will jeer at this very prospect. But, trust me when I say that Goyer and Friedman’s adaptation is sensitive, loving and new; its wish to build upon Asimov’s Foundation, not only welcome but essential in bringing his story to the screen.
Foundation’s complex inter-galactic story demands your full attention as it slowly builds its narrative arc over each stunning episode. Every detail of the work on display is lovingly crafted, from its performances to its beautifully realised alien worlds. And while each episode may require your full attention to keep pace with the story, believe me, your time, patience, and commitment are more than worth the wait.
Foundation is nothing short of extraordinary; a lavish TV epic. From its costume design to its beautiful score and screenplay, Foundation is TV at its most creative, brave and bold. Spectacular TV events do not come along often, and while I have no doubt Foundation may not appeal to everyone due to its complex science fiction themes, nobody could deny its wonder and power. I can only hope that season one is the foundation stone for a continuing adventure, because this is one series that demands more.