Foundation of disappointment

Much like Apple TV+’s teaser starts, people have been trying to adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels for fifty years and have failed. Even Dune is more adaptable than Foundation. This may sound overtly exaggerated, but it’s all about the fundamental nature of Foundation; it is about the sociology of humanity, not the psychology. What I mean by this that Foundation has no protagonist we follow through or witness heroic events. Foundation is all about concepts and promises of action, much like how Hitchcock would plant a bomb underneath a table to make two men discussing something suspenseful. Even the creator of the novels’ psychohistory, Hari Seldon, is not seen in the flesh after the first story, par prequel novels.

Perhaps I need to get back to what Foundation is about. It is not exactly about the fall of the Galactic Empire. The fall in itself is not important, it’s background material, the start of it all. Foundation is about humanity’s actions and how we can use psychohistory, a fictional statistical science combined with psychology, to statistically predict how humanity will act in the future. While seemingly a success at first, Asimov moves towards proving faults and weaknesses in psychohistory later in the series, much like how he established the Laws of Robotics and then proceeded to explore all the ways they could be broken and how faulty they innately were. As said, the fall of the Galactic Empire is just the background, the kick-off point where the Seldon Plan begins, a plan for Seldon’s established the Foundation to nudge humanity bit by bit to certain directions with careful manipulations to shorten the galactic Dark Age that follows after the fall of the Empire from thirty thousand years of barbarism and violence to mere thousand. Everything goes right at first, there are no deviations with the plans and Seldon’s recordings are correct what happens long after he has been dead. These Seldon Crises are predicted events that put the Foundation to the test, first being how the Foundation has to deal with four different kingdoms who broke off from Empire during the fall. These crisis are dealt with in a manner how Seldon has predicted, until an element outside humanity throws a monkey wrench into the gears. Psychohistory can only account humanity and its actions, but not unknowns from outside. Though even that becomes somewhat questionable due to introduction of Robots into the Foundation series and Hari Seldon being aware of future plans of one R. Daneel Olivaw.

None of this would make terribly exciting television of film though. Foundation lacks punching action that most other science fiction works might find themselves under, like the Robot novels. Supposedly, Asimov himself had said how he regretted how much of Foundation was people sitting around and talking. It works in book form, especially when it’s the concepts and realisation of those concepts matter, but on television it is jarring. You simply can’t be faithful to the Foundation novels when adapting them, which is why Apple TV+’s adaptation takes the predictable action-romp route. It’s extremely easy to take the first Foundation story and simply set it during the Fall of the Galactic Empire, with all the violence and murder that would take place at Trantor, the capital world of the Empire. However, all the interesting spots for television and films happens removed from what’s truly interesting in the novels. Take for an example the Second Seldon Crisis, where the Foundation has provided nuclear power to its neighbouring kingdoms after the first crisis, but has tied its running and maintenance into a guise of religion of the Great Galactic Spirit. When one of the nations try to advantage of their superior military power and attack the Foundation, the population revolts against the rulers as they have violated against the Galactic Spirit. For television and film, all the military parts and people revolting would make good entertainment, but what’s on paper is not this. What Asimov wrote was about discussing how and why the Foundation enacted these religious rules, proceeding to a discussion about the nature of this religion and how much power this religion truly holds as the mastermind of the attack futilely tries to act on his plan. This is one of the motifs in Foundation, where there is heightened tension, which is solved because of plans and solutions build into the problem itself, negating violence. Violence is the last resort of the incompetence, as the series states.

Foundation is space opera and political thriller with heavy emphasize on solving problems. Hollywood must have something bombastic. Science fiction as a genre on TV and film require huge front-up savings, be on streaming services or in the theatres. Thus, resorting to Star Wars-ifying Foundation with battles and action, be it in riots or shoot-outs, is the easiest way to it easily palpable to the generic audiences. This is why, for example, the SciFi original mini-series adaptation of the Dune had some added action elements, or why its 1980’s movies version changed and added things to make carry more impact on the screen. Sure we can argue that milking a cat is a very Lynchian change, and making it rain on a desert planet makes a great looking ending even if it is absolutely retarded. What the Apple TV+ teaser promises is not Foundation, but Foundation as adapted by Hollywood; a dreary looking series filled with action and violence in space. Is that all SF is now? Ever since rebooted Battle Star Galactica science fiction on television has become more and more depressing and violent, making shows like Star Trek effectively remove their true core in exchange of violence and swearing.

If adaptations for the Foundation has been attempted for the last fifty years, why would it suddenly be feasible? Technology has never been the issue. We’ve had great script writers who have been able to adapt books before into movies in faithful and successful manner well before the millennium change hit us. The only thing that seems to have changed is streaming and companies wanting to find themselves IPs they can market and gain viewers. Foundation, being a cornerstone in literature, seemingly would fit just fine among all the other SF works that streaming services are offering. It only makes sense to actionify it then, seeing it’s going against shows like modern Star Trek shows, Mandalorian and whatever else Star Wars stuff that Disney’s going to throw out, and even The Orville. The name is used to drive a similar vehicle just to match these other titles. This adaptation has been lingering in development hell for a decade and then some. It’s no surprise it’s getting out in this form at this time. As such, what hopes there are for an adaptations that wouldn’t bastardise the source material? There ‘s no love in here for Foundation. If you’ve read the original novels, or have heard the terrific radio drama by BBC 4, you can expect this adaptation to disappoint.

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