Over fifty years after initial publication, it’s here! Finally, there is a film adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Fans have been waiting for this for a long time. It was back in the 1940s that young Asimov walked into John W. Campbell, Jr.’s office at Astounding! and pitched him the Roman Empire but in space. Eight books later, it finally comes to the screen, available from AppleTV, by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman.
Gaal Dorrick, played Lou Llobell and gender-flipped, introduces the Galactic Empire’s meritocratic system, where she advances in school and gains a position in the capital, Trantor, thanks to her mathematical acumen. It’s only once she arrives that – surprise! – she and her mentor, the great Hari Seldon, are on trial. And, hey, Hari Seldon is played by Jared Harris. (Fringe, The Expanse. What is it about this guy that screams shadowy sci-fi terrorists?) Lee Pace plays the middle-aged emperor clone, Brother Day, who rules alongside a child clone of himself, Brother Dawn, and an elderly clone, Brother Dusk. The Emperors have been ruling the galaxy for thousands of years, hypothetically leaving power in the hands of a single man, albeit the same guy split into three.
Hari Seldon’s crime and, therefore, the crime of those who work for him is treason. Seldon, using advanced math called psychohistory, predicts that the mighty Galactic Empire will crumble and that a dark age lasting 30,000 years will follow. The Emperor sees this as a threat since his regime shows no weakness and orchestrates a trial, where Gaal Dorrick must prove Seldon wrong using math. However, Gaal decides to stay loyal to Selden and her own conscience since she can’t prove Seldon wrong anyway. It’s then that an attack on Trantor by marauders from a nearby planet occurs, convincing Brother Day to not execute but exile Seldon and his followers to Planet Terminus. While Gaal feels dismayed at leaving Trantor after she just arrived, Seldon reveals that he had also foreseen this and that Terminus has always been his choice to start a colony of psychohistorians, called the Foundation.
Trantor, Terminus, and the Empire look beautiful in that award-bait sci-fi way. The set design is intricate and rightfully evokes ancient Rome, with some influences from Chinese and Japanese architecture. The outlying planets are arid, expansive plains. The costumes, too, looked livable and original, only slightly recalling a certain space opera about laser swords but potentially hinting toward an ancient Earth. The cast manages to convey gravitas into a planetful of expository dialogue, with special mention to Llobell’s Gaal. Asimov wrote intricate science puzzles and twisty plots, but the character was his weak point. However, her character interpretation presents us with an intelligent young woman willing to make whatever choices are necessary.
It’s certainly fitting that the staying power of a series this old is reflected in the epic scale of its story. If you’ve come this far with the Foundation series, you’re probably in for the long haul. Keep watching for our coverage of episode 2, and stream the whole first season on Apple TV!