For several years, streaming platforms have worked frantically, and with minimal success, to create the next “Game of Thrones”. Apple TV + has taken this pinata a big blow with “Foundation,” its stunning new adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s influential sci-fi book series, long considered infilmable.
But filmed it, they sure did. In its three available episodes, “Foundation” unfolds a story spanning generations and vast interstellar distances. The series, created by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman, is vast in scope and setting: a distant future in which humanity has colonized the galaxy and billions of citizens are ruled by an authoritarian galactic empire.
Jared Harris (“Mad Men”, “Chernobyl”) plays Hari Seldon, a dissident mathematician whose calculations suggest the Empire is facing an impending collapse that will plunge humanity into an era of darkness. You know you love deep science fiction when one of its heroes is the dissident mathematician.
Seldon’s writings become a PR crisis for the Empire and its trinity of cloned rulers, who appear as the child dictator-in-training Brother Dawn (Cooper Carter), the adult monarch Brother Day (Lee Pace) and the Emperor. Distinguished Aging Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann).
The Empire arrests and exiles Seldon and his brilliant young protégé, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), to a distant planet to begin building the Foundation, a repository of accumulated knowledge that will accelerate humanity’s recovery from impending disaster.
Apart from whether the “Game of Thrones” phenomenon is truly reproducible, “Foundation”, with its lofty premises and ambitious execution, bets untold production dollars that it can dazzle enough meaning to draw a mass audience into its. fantastic universe rendered alive.
You may remember, however, that “Game of Thrones” didn’t start with battles and spectacular visual effects; it took a few seasons to find its audience and, consequently, its eleven billion dollar budget.
Out of necessity, the early “GoTs” took care of the complex world building and character development, so by the time he let go of the CGI dragons and ice zombies and so on, the world felt inhabited and them. The characters’ actions followed an internal logic (give or take season eight).
Seemingly devoid of similar constraints, “Foundation” offers some of the most lavish visuals ever to appear on television. In the first episode alone, we visit many alien worlds with majestic lunar landscapes and alien fauna and watch a terrorist attack kill more viewers than all the Michael Bay movies put together.
The compromise is a squeaky cut, dense and fuzzy plot, and characters that feel thin as paper, even by sci-fi standards, or tricked into adding romance and diversity. Its frantic pace keeps the audience away. It is only through the explanatory dialogue that we learn that Gaal, ultimately our point of view protagonist, grew up as a genius on a planet where knowledge was verboten, part of the hero’s journey that should have been shown more than told.
Instead, we get spaceship melodrama and catch-all speeches about the survival of mankind, the insanity of trading freedom for security, science for fanaticism, and so on. Space series such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Expanse” have planted deeper emotional issues with fractions of “” apparent Foundation resources. “
Thus, the viewer’s mind drifts into narrative black holes. For example: when a headline informs us that it is “35 years ago”, what does that really mean in a galaxy with thousands of inhabited planets? Is everyone using Earth’s calendar while orbiting different stars?
Also, if the Empire is so threatened by Seldon’s theories reaching large audiences, why televise his trial? And would it really take genius math to predict the decline of an empire, when human history already fundamentally refutes the sustainability of imperialism?
Presumably, much of this is clearer in Asimov’s allegedly non-filmable text, which I resist the temptation to say should have remained undocumented. I have a lot more patience for grotesque sci-fi than I probably say, and even more patience for Lee Pace, whose chiseled face practically screams, “Think of me as a deranged space emperor.” “
So I wish “Foundation” would be the next … something, even if it sounds like the bad emotional relationship you have to have with a great Apple product that will hopefully get better with more updates. software.
Troy Reimink is a writer and musician from Western Michigan.