As the cliche goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In Hollywood, it’s a rule or law, not just a saying. When hits are on television or in the movies, studios always scramble to make a show or film just like that hit. This is why we have “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Genie” or “The Addams Family” and the “Munsters” or “Dynasty” and “Dallas.”
This same thing happened on a galactic scale when “Star Wars” debuted in 1977 and changed how Americans consumed movies. Many credit “Jaws” as being the first movie blockbuster, but “Star Wars” created a high-grossing genre (the space opera) that could be copied and recreated. It was because of “Star Wars” that competitors like “Star Trek” were launched into theaters, and “Battlestar Galactica” were created.
In the 2010s, HBO created a show based on George R. R. Martin’s sword and sorcery series, known on television as “Game of Thrones,” which was a tremendous hit. In fact, after the series ended, 38% of HBO subscribers ended their relationship with the streaming service. GoT became a cultural phenomenon and inspired costumes, food, and was even mentioned during college sports broadcasts, according to Metro.
So, much like what happened with the success of “The Addams Family,” networks and streaming services are looking for their “Munsters.” Meaning that soon the networks would be giving audiences shows that are sort of like GoT, but just a little different. Among those are Amazon’s “The Wheel of Time” and their new “Lord of the Rings” series. Warner Brothers just released a their new version of Dune, and are hard at work on a GoT prequel series as well.
While those two are very much like GoT, Apple presented “Foundation,” which is supposed to be an adaptation of the great Isaac Asimov’s series of novels, known by the same name. The plot of these books is basically a galactic version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which Asimov did not hide.
The Foundation Novels
In his story, a great mathematician named Hari Seldon formulated a science called “psychohistory,” which allowed him to predict the future on a very grand scale. This new science did not let Seldon know what would happen tomorrow or to a neighbor. Still, he could say that the human society which dominated the galaxy was about to crash.
His plan was to create a planet of people who could help weather this fall, which is supposed to be like what Europe experienced in the Medieval Era. These would be members of the Foundation, who would help rebuild society after just 1,000 years of decline. Without Seldon’s plan, the galaxy would suffer for 10,000 years, in which warlords and barons would rule, and the typical person would be at their mercy.
In the books, which start with “Foundation,” there is not much action and primarily consists of people and leaders talking about what has happened and what will happen. This is why many thought the series would never be adapted for movies or TV, saying that it was “unfilmable.” Quite a few writers have tried to make something of Asimov’s masterpiece, including Jonathan Nolan. He helped create the Dark Knight Trilogy with his brother, Christopher.
Now filmmaker David S. Goyer, who also is known for his work on those Batman-related films, gives audiences his take on the “Foundation” story. It is safe to say that Goyer has proved that “Foundation” is still unfilmable because his series takes just a few situations and characters from the original novels and creates an entirely new universe.
Not In The Spirit of ’Foundation’
In the fourth book of the series, “Foundation’s Edge,” Asimov writes that “the individual human being is unpredictable, but reactions of human mobs, Seldon found, could be treated statistically.” This is an essential and known fact of psychohistory, which constantly works through all the books. The only exception is the character known as “The Mule,” who has mutant superpowers and could not be predicted by Seldon.
In the show, Seldon (played by the noted actor Jared Harris) tells Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) that he needed to kill another character so the Foundation would survive on Terminus (their destination world). Obviously, these sorts of things were done by Goyer for dramatic effect and to try to make “Foundation” more than just people talking in a room.
Ignoring the fundamental rules of psychohistory is akin to “Star Wars,” not including The Force or “Star Trek,” making Spock a happy and cheerful character. It ultimately steers away from the source material into something completely different.
Different Characters, New Powers
Much has been written about the emperors of the series and their genetic dynasty. This is an interesting and probably much-needed addition to the drama, which creates a “bad guy” who can last for over 1,000 years. These emperors are played by Lee Pace, Terrence Mann, and Cassian Bilton. They are always succeeding each other as time passes. They were cloned from one ruler named Cleon and reign supreme from their planet Trantor.
Goyer and his writers pick parts from various Foundation books to use these three characters in, like in the trial of Seldon (as seen in Episode 1) or in the hunting scene from Episode 6 (from “Foundation and Empire”). For those who are familiar with the books, those are lovely treats.
But then Goyer takes Brother Day (Pace) into a completely GoT-style spiritual journey in Episode 8. In the Foundation books, religion is treated as a weapon, used to control people and force submission to science.
The same goes for much of the character Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), who in the books is a male politician. “Foundation” makes Hardin a female, which is entirely understandable, as almost all the characters in Asimov’s series are male. But Goyer gives this Hardin special powers and abilities… making her almost superhuman. In a way, she is much like Michael Burnham from “Star Trek: Discovery,” who is often accused of doing almost anything. In the books, the only characters who had powers like this were The Mule and the secretive Second Foundation members. Perhaps audiences will find out that Hardin is also a mutant.
All of that aside, the show is entertaining. IndieWire calls it “thrilling,” and it has been renewed for a second season. For those who choose to watch, you will be awestruck by the millions of dollars spent by the most valuable company in the world to make “Foundation” an epic. Just don’t expect to be able to read along with your Asimov novels.