Isaac Asimov is one of the greatest science fiction writers to ever write. Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of his death, following complications from a blood transfusion. There may have been other adaptations of his work, including I robot and Bicentennial man, but no one dared to try Foundation until now. A trilogy of books that proved hugely influential in science fiction circles, this densely written triptych, later developed into six volumes, seemed beyond the courage of most filmmakers. That is, until David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman decide to tackle it head on.
With a creative contribution to projects including that of Christopher Nolan Black Knight, by Neil Gaiman Sand seller, and that of James Cameron Avatar 2 between them, David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman certainly have the form. While that might not automatically make them eligible to adapt a sci-fi touchstone, their dedication to the source material is evident within minutes.
Leaning into a sporadic voiceover to provide immediate context, it is about mathematicians, murders, and martyrs before Jared Harris transforms into Hari Seldon. An extremist, a avant-garde and a mathematical theologian, he is at the heart of what comes next. Following its introduction as vastly different planets, characters, and cultures filter through the cracks in this world-building exercise, Foundation is really starting to find its feet.
Galactic empires, human cloning, and banishment to faraway destinations form the backbone of this exciting opening. Jared Harris and Lou Llobell quickly establish an easy chemistry that makes all of the math and character sequences straightforward to follow. As Gaal Dornick, the latter has wide-eyed wonder, yet carries the detachment of intellect necessary to found her character. Meanwhile, the former is just as comfortable discussing abstract theorems, mathematical prophecies, or Imperial interference without breaking a sweat.
That this first hour passes so quickly has a lot to do with this couple, who feel strangely anchored among phosphorescent horizons and overtly technological advances. Holograms emerge from the air. Vast monoliths emit waves of energy, and man-made life forms act as wives and nurses for the galactic figureheads.
At a more traditional level, Foundation looks like an intergalactic Game Of Thrones. These worlds and this story are vast, which is a reaction that increases rather than decreases as events unfold. After four hours of television, random timestamps, and ritualistic executions, the canvas still looks huge. Lee Pace and Terrence Mann stand out as despotic deities who show mercy or have temper tantrums. The flip side is with Leah Harvey and David McPherson, who perform well as colonists Salvor Hardin and Hugo as an off-world trader.
However, the fact that David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman are able to create something cohesive from the six volumes is perhaps the biggest achievement here. As political machinations, interconnected timelines, and countless characters jostle for screen time, Foundation becomes more and more intriguing.
MORE ON THE WEB
Conflicts are starting to make sense. The prophecies begin to come to the house to roost. And the majesty of Rory Cheyne’s production design becomes more apparent. There is a rich and vibrant quality in world building that gives this series its beating heart. The ornate wealth suspended in the ether is accentuated by the ostentatious wealth and privilege of Trantor, while the more rustic dwellings on Synnax speak of a low-key existence, differentiating cultures without further exposure.
More than anything, it feels like the start of something rather than a standalone sci-fi series. There will be some who berate Apple for creating a show that was never going to be truly commercial. Isaac Asimov may be a bit esoteric to some, which is ironic, since he worked on the first Star Trek cinema as a consultant. However, for true fans, it’s also close to Foundation like anyone will ever try to get to the screen.
Large and convoluted, but perfectly consistent once you measure the cadence and tone, there are few programs that can come close to this level of reality. Like the great novels of our time, including the Lord of the Rings and Gormenghast, there is a depth to Foundation which is only possible because of this lineage. For the sheer ambition and dedication needed to shape a tangible line out of this space opera, everyone deserves an award.
Whether Foundation has the potential to reach a large audience, however, remains to be seen. Apple may have bravery, bravado, and creative flair combined with deep pockets, but its streaming service hasn’t always been the most accessible.