The ‘Foundation’ series is a milestone in television science fiction: 7 successes that make Asimov’s adaptation a success
This article does not contain spoilers for the ‘Foundation’ series
As we’ve been discussing since the ambitious Apple TV + series was announced, David S. Goyer and his writers faced a very considerable challenge. Isaac Asimov’s original saga of ‘Foundation’ books is practically unfit due to tremendous leaps in time that gives his narration and his consistent effort to avoid action and spatial conquests, which always happen in off.
But ‘Foundation’ was written in other times, seventy years ago, and science fiction readers of the time were used to some authors giving them almost conceptual stories, leaving behind the old days of science. space opera, something that would be inconceivable in a television series. The question is: How did ‘Fundación’ achieve it? What tactics have you put in place to bring adaptation to fruition?
1 – It focuses on the start of the novel …
The concept of the psychohistory (the ability to predict historical movements up to thousands of years in the future using mathematical resources) It is the most powerful in the book and is the backbone of its entire plot. It is not surprising that the film stops to explain how it works in long conversations between Hari Seldon and Gaal Dornick, excellently written and, above all, visualized so that the viewer gives credibility to the system. In the book, no attention was paid to why psychohistory worked, it was just clear that it did. Here the approach is given verisimilitude.
For this, the first episodes of the series, which we have been able to see so far, they stay most of the time on Trantor, the planet-state, capital of the Galactic Empire, and develop the thesis of the psychohistory of Seldon: the Empire, after 12,000 years of rule, will fall within five centuries, and after the fall humanity will suffer a period of barbarism of 30,000 years; the fall is inevitable, but it is still possible to reduce that black period to 1000 years. Staying in these opening bars of the series alongside Seldon and his theories allows the series to firmly settle the first details of the plot.
2 – … but go back and forth in time
The ‘Foundation’ book, in reality, is the compilation of a series of short novels that were published independently in their day. Although they tell a common story, each one takes place in a different time and place.. It is almost certain that we will see its intermingled plots throughout the series, adapted to take place in coherent times, but for now we have been able to see a leap into the future, to the planet Terminus where the Foundation is installed.
It is an intelligent way of providing a certain broad spectrum in time and space to action, and also to pose the mystery of Seldon’s first great revelation, with the view of the mysterious, almost esoteric dome. In the book, the first corroboration that Seldon was right, years after his death, is perhaps the first big shock ever: ‘Foundation’ uses this little leap into the near future to pave the way.
3 – He does not renounce the visual epic
‘Foundation’ is not a very visual novel, but the truth is that one of its first memorable moments takes place when Gaal Dornick arrives in Trantor and contemplates the city in ecstasy. In ‘Foundation’ that vision is reinforced portraying a majestic capital so that we share Dornick’s feeling of entering a vast world, with shows as pure and enjoyable science fiction as the space elevators. The production design of the series is absolutely spectacular.
Similarly, we won’t see a lot of space travel, but from the arid Trantor to the exotic home planet of Dornick, we will take away some impressive images, many of them linked to the origins of the character, who instead of taking the religious paths that were expected for his own, decided to study mathematics – another way, in his own way, of seeking God in numerical perfection, which reinforces the absolutely pro-scientific message of the novels and of which the series echoes perfectly. These epic images are a way for the series to replicate the novel’s fabulous ambition and its passage through different races, planets and eras, all affected by Seldon’s predictions. Without words, the television ‘Foundation’ also broadcasts some of that.
4 – A villain who rises to the occasion
The story of the original ‘Foundation’ does not have a clear villain, but rather the protagonists face an immense institution, the Empire, than refuses to acknowledge its decline and whose invisible tentacles are reflected in the first trial against Hari Seldon. But the television series makes the most fortunate decision to create an emperor (three clone emperors, actually, in three different ages, with a spectacular Lee Pace in his adulthood) that serves to focus on the villain of the story. Beware of the idea of cloning, which goes beyond a wonderful metaphor for the curses of blue blood, but rather that, like cryosleep, it will allow us to preserve characters as the decades pass … and the centuries go by.
This also allows us that the diplomatic conflicts between planets (but very bloody: remember that the human race has spread through the cosmos eliminating the alien cultures that it was encountering) are easier to understand as they are represented here by tangible beings. A new decision in the series’ quest to bring the abstract of the original to more specific elements and concrete, and further reinforced by an Emperor here portrayed in a particularly Machiavellian way and who establishes very peculiar and perverse relationships between his three clones of different ages. Only in the first two chapters you already sign up for the game that will give you this lucky concept of nemesis.
5 – Hari Seldon as core
In the novel, the character of Seldon is eternally present, first as a catapult of the plot with the approach of psychohistory. Later, like a shadow of wisdom that persists in time, since its predictions are being fulfilled in an almost anticlimactic way. In any case, his extraordinary intelligence and his knowledge of what is going to happen gave rise to a character too juicy to pass up.
In the series, Seldon is younger, and is humanized by a series of dialogues that put him in contact with Gaal Dornick, let’s not forget, the viewer’s anchor to understand this world. Much of the success in this task is due to the interpretation of Jared Harris, who makes the superhuman insight of the inventor of psychohistory credible, but who at the same time it humanizes it with doubts and fears that go beyond the monolithic figure of the original Seldon.
6 -Don’t forget what made the original great
Curiously, ‘Dune’ and ‘Fundación’ are two novels that, beyond their proximity in time – barely a decade or so apart between one and the other – do not have too many plot elements in common. What they do agree on is an epic vision of the future, that covers impossible distances and arcs of thousands of years where we are told of the rise and fall of complete civilizations. Even more curiously, the two, very complicated to adapt, have received two audiovisual versions that have understood their potential.
And they have achieved this by deducing which scenes, even if they were not present in the originals (both ‘Dune’ and ‘Foundation’ do not have plenty of action, and they do have abundant dialogues in corridors, palaces, cells and throne rooms), could have an impact visual (the clash between the forces of the Harkonnen and those of the Atreides in ‘Dune’, the descriptions of the planets and the city of Trantor in ‘Foundation’), and maximizing their potential in images. But without neglecting the astonishing sense of the gigantic scale with which both work: In ‘Foundation’ we never have the feeling that we are told the story of Seldon, but that of the entire species. 25 million worlds, to be said soon.
7 – Don’t be afraid to correct Asimov when necessary
Seventy years are nothing, as they say, but in many ways they are a whole world. Asimov, a convinced humanist, he was not always so advanced in those beliefs in his texts, with very few female characters and not whites. The series has changed that not for a matter of mere political correctness, but because Asimov himself would have been convinced that in a future society women would have held positions of importance. In any case, Dornick and Hardin’s gender change, for example, does not change their personalities from the books in the least.
Similarly, there are a number of narrative quirks in the books that come from their fragmented structure and the lack of suspense that comes with the true belief that Seldon had predicted the future of humanity in detail. The series manages to, without neglecting that perspective, elaborate a series of conflicts for the characters not so macro and yes something more emotional, that contribute something of humanity to the sometimes cold original books. Without losing sight of Asimov’s perspective (the great movements of civilizations ultimately come from the decisions of their individuals), the Apple TV + series transforms him, in a singular caper, into a portrait of individuals who make people move civilizations.