They Said Foundation Couldn’t Be Filmed, and It Still Hasn’t Been

Home Technology They Said Foundation Couldn’t Be Filmed, and It Still Hasn’t Been
They Said Foundation Couldn’t Be Filmed, and It Still Hasn’t Been
A still from Apple's Foundation series features Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) looking pensive and with his hands clasped together while seated at a reflective desk. A many-sided object sits before him.
Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) is a man with a plan.
Image: Apple TV+

In 1966, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy was voted the best science fiction series of all time at the Hugo Awards. Other series have certainly surpassed it since then, although it’s still considered the work that codified the genre. Despite its fame, because the series is an epic on a galactic level told over the course of 500 years or so, with dozens of characters, conflicts, and stories, no one’s figured out how to bring Foundation into live-action. Apple TV+’s new Foundation series hasn’t figured it out either.

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Foundation the TV series is not Foundation the book series. There are a few bones of the original story in there, sure, including the premise. Mathematician/psychologist Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) creates the field of psychohistory, in which the future can be pathetically predicted—not for individuals, but humanity in general—and has discovered the horrifying truth that the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire is going to fall, beginning a new dark age that will last 30,000 years. It can’t be stopped, but it can be reduced to a mere millennium by creating a repository of human knowledge to become the foundation of a new civilization. It’s an astoundingly great premise that could never be served in a movie, and a TV adaptation was never going to be easy. The first Foundation book alone is made up of five separate novellas that have no characters in common, and take place over 150 years. Very, very few of those characters are developed because we spend so little time with them. They’re not the story—the Foundation is, and how it develops over time.

TV audiences would, understandably, have a hard time getting invested in a show where the entire cast and conflict changes every episode. Showrunner David S. Goyer—writer of about a billion DC superhero movies—limits Foundation’s first season to the first two-fifths of the original novel and ties them together in a somewhat forced way. Goyer’s idea to have Lee Pace play an eternally cloned Emperor Cleon is a clever way to give the series a (basically) consistent antagonist. Changing characters’ genders and ethnicities is a must for modern times—there were virtually no female characters in Asimov’s early books—and, of course, it doesn’t affect the story in the slightest. And he begins the show with a bit of sci-fi spectacle that will absolutely hook audiences into rooting for Hari’s grand plan to succeed.

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