Foundation, Apple's Epic Sci-Fi Series, Is Decades Ahead of Its Time
The last 10 years have been monumental for television and cinematic storytelling. The arts, as do most things, stand on the shoulders of giants. It was the massive success of Lord of the Rings that made Game of Thrones possible, just as Star Wars paved the way for Marvel’s Avengers. As the scope of cinematic storytelling grew bigger and bigger, from the good vs. evil theme of LOTR to the politics of GOT, it was only inevitable for cinematic storytelling to reach new heights—galactic heights, to be specific.
In Apple TV+’s new series Foundation, the streaming platform takes on the challenge of adapting Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi classic, literature that dares to tell the story of a universe spanning thousands upon thousands of years. It’s no easy feat to tell the story of Asimov’s universe, and despite a few stumbles, Foundation has accomplished bringing true, hard sci-fi to the big screen—even if it chose to remix rather than adapt the source material.
Asimov’s seven-book Foundation series essentially created, well, the foundations of hard sci-fi in literature. It’s largely known that Frank Herbert’s Dune, which was recently adapted into a Warner Bros. film, was inspired by Foundation. But where Dune enticed readers to connect with its central characters, Foundation’s heart was always in the ideas and sciences that survived its 30,000 year history. For a long time, Asimov’s works were considered “unfilmable” due to the sheer scale of its premise, but Apple’s solution to that was not to be a loyal adaptation of the classic works. Instead, what we’re shown is a reworking of the original books that stays loyal to the elements that defined the hard sci-fi series: the rise and fall of civilizations.
It’s this fact that makes the Apple TV+ series a divisive topic among Asimov’s most dedicated readers, but from a viewer’s perspective, it might have been the best decision to make. Asimov was not known for his prose, and the series’ additional touch of drama and human connections adds an element that was missing for most of the book series—the "humanization" of humanity. That’s not to say that this is a character-driven series—at least, the series still stays true to Foundation’s commitment to telling the story of a cause rather than a singular character.
"Martyrs tend to have a long half-life." - Brother Day
In Foundation, the series, viewers will encounter sci-fi storytelling as we’ve never seen before. Almost abstract in its plot, Foundation centers around psychohistory, which is an actual field of study here on Earth, focused on identifying the psychological eras of history. Foundation takes this a step further as the book’s mathematician and pseudo-prophet Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) uses psychohistory to mathematically predict the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire that will lead the universe to enter a 30,000-year-long dark age. It’s this science that is the catalyst of the events in the series, drawing in characters from all walks of life that will each play a role in the great collapse of the universe as the Empire rejects this science in favor of staying in power and keeping the status quote (sound familiar?).
Seldon proposes a plan to save the Empire, or at least the memory of it, by shortening the dark age from 30,000 years to 1,000. His solution is to establish an outpost on the edge of the galaxy that will serve as the foundation for the Second Empire. We are introduced to the characters Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), a self-taught genius and Seldon’s protege; Raych Seldon (Aldred Enoch), Seldon’s adopted son; and Salvor Hardin, a warden of the planet Terminus whose story takes place 35 years after the first episode.
Meanwhile, from the Galactic Empire’s side, we meet Eto Demerzel, the majordomo to the Empire, a three-fold personification of the Galactic’s power—three men, genetic clones of the first Emperor at different ages, that rule the Empire together in a never-ending cycle. We have Brother Dawn, the youngest who will soon grow into Brother Day, the middle clone with the most power who will eventually take on Brother Dusk’s senior advisor-like role. This is a far diversion from the books, but it’s perhaps the best change as it brings forth the acting prowess of Brother Day, played by none other than Lee Pace whose theatrical background shines in the role of the terrifyingly charismatic emperor.
Meanwhile, it’s Gaal’s role as narrator that offers the gravity and contemplation that balances out the dramatics of the Empire. Captivating in its scope, the show is also equally enthralling in its visuals.
"The clockwork of civilization, the rise and fall of cultures, causes, and worlds, these were answers Hari Seldon had long since unriddled. Belief is a powerful weapon. That's why the Empire feared Hari Seldon's predictions so much. Empires govern wordly concerns, but what comes after? Our souls? These realms are the purview of faith. And faith is a sword forged in the fires of the infinite." - Gaal Dornick
Set on the city-planet Trantor, the beating heart of the crumbling Galactic Empire, Foundation also takes us to distant planets and star systems, not even shying away from almost showing off its amazing aesthetics and CGI. These are dreams of other planets that sci-fi lovers can only imagine.
That’s not to say that everyone will love the ideological tension in Foundation. Fatalism is an acquired taste, and the show’s penchant for exposition to make sense of the wide-reaching material can be hard for some to swallow. The lack of chronology and time jumps between episodes can also be jarring for viewers who prefer paced storytelling. But then again, Foundation could have never been told in such a simplistic manner.
Showrunners David Goyer and Josh Friedman have created a show of galactic proportions perhaps decades ahead of its time. With its sheer complexity and timeless themes, Foundation might just be a show that will survive us all, just as Hari Seldon intended.
Foundation is now streaming on Apple TV+ in the Philippines.