Apple TV has finally brought a long-awaited adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi trilogy to the screen. The big budget 10-part series follows a band of exiles who learn that the only way to save the Galactic Empire from destruction is to rebel against it.
Asimov’s Foundation was thought to be almost unadaptable. New Line Cinema, Sony, and HBO all held the rights to the property at various times through the 1990s and 2000s. Roland Emmerich was even attached to direct at one time, and Westworld’s Jonathan Nolan was previously contracted by HBO to create a series. The show ended up finally making it on screen with David S. Goyer (Blade and Batman Begins) as the showrunner, with writing credits from Leigh Dana Jackson (Helix, 24: Legacy), Victoria Morrow (Weeds, Rectify), co-producer Adam Banks (Altered Carbon, Luke Cage), and Robyn Asimov (Isaac’s daughter), who will serve as an executive producer.
The show starts on a deserted planet, a mysterious ship-like object floating in the air. The object has some mysterious forcefield around it, maiming anyone who comes near it. Foundation quickly jumps back to the capital of the Galactic Empire, Trantor, a lavish empire floating in the sky. This Empire is formed of millions of inhabited and colonised worlds, all ruled by one cruel group of emperors.
Dr Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) claims that the world will soon be thrown into a dark age spanning 30,000 years, and the reign of the ruling Cleons will be weakened. He is the creator of psychohistory, a form of science that can predict the future of civilisation. His predictions for the Empire are grim, but he thinks he can reduce the Dark Ages to just 1,000 years.
The group of rulers (including Brother Day, played with an extravagant delight by Lee Pace; Brother Dusk, played by Terrence Mann; and Brother Dawn, played by Cassian Bilton) believe his prediction to be a threat to a society rather than a warning that their powerful legacy will not last. The Cleons know that if they simply kill Seldon, that act may empower his followers, who are already growing in numbers. It’s not hard to connect Seldon and the Emperor’s behaviour with the current political climate where the truth appears to get in the way of a good news story, and politicians are more concerned with image than facts.
Foundation is a sumptuous show that clearly has had a large budget spent on it. Switching between multiple timelines, before and after an incident that changed the life of many, it’s not one for those who half watch as they browse the internet. There are lots of characters, some appear in one or more timelines, others do not. The interconnected narratives and scope of the story means that there isn’t much opportunity to deeply explore these characters. There are too many names, on and off screen, with some appearing to give stilted dialogue only to never appear again.
Whilst Foundation is cerebral, dealing with intergalactic politics, it never holds back on action. There are huge explosions that take down entire civilisations, gunfights, and war. Although the message is that science, ideologies, and philosophy can change the world, there are still many action scenes.
Much like the world they inhabit, there are too many things going on. The opening episodes have a classic sci-fi feel with empiric councils, huge space libraries and exploding spaceships. There are then murders in space, a derelict post-apocalyptic world and a rather ridiculous love subplot that wastes time that could be spent investigating the plot. A cohesive idea of the genre of the show would have helped greatly.
Foundation struggles for having too many ideas and themes shoved into a limited run of episodes. The expansive range of planets, people and ideologies can be hard to keep up with. We don’t meet them one by one; the different timelines are thrown at us in one go with sometimes very little context. Foundation isn’t sure if it wants to be a philosophic metaphor for war and why we should listen to the thinkers not the shooters, or if it wants to be a sexed-up sci-fi shows about attractive revolutionaries carrying on a movement long after the founder has gone.
Foundation premieres on Apple TV+ on September 24 with the first three episodes, followed by one new episode weekly every Friday.
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy