Columbia won an auction late Thursday for screen rights to “Foundation,” Isaac Asimov’s ground breaking science fiction trilogy. The film will be developed as a directing vehicle for Roland Emmerich.
Emmerich and his Centropolis partner Michael Wimer will produce the film. The deal was mid six-figures against low seven figures.
I see nothing but “train wreck” written all over this. Emmerich is a competent filmmaker, churning out big-budget genre spectacles of debatable quality like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. But both of these movies are nothing more than shallow, star-and/or-effects-driven affairs, and The Foundation Trilogy is anything but. The only slightly intellectually engaging movie of Ememrich’s that comes to mind is Stargate, but even then Emmerich struggled to convey the intricacies of that movie’s relatively complex plot.
On a lark, and because it’s been way too long, I pulled my leather-bound, collectors’ Easton Press edition of The Foundation Trilogy off its place of pride on my bookshelf (yes, I’m bragging, I likes me my finely-bound SF book collection). According to Asimov’s own introduction to Foundation, in “The Story Behind the Foundation,” the genesis of this seminal work lies in Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (“I thought of soldiers, of military empires, of the Roman Empire—of a Galactic Empire—aha!”), and as such, as a commentary on the times we live in now (arguably the fall of the American empire), I grant that the overarching themes in the work are topical, and could resonate well with a modern, mainstream audience (remember, long-time fandom: this current spate of SF-themed movies is not meant for you). Additionally, the entire Foundation saga is a piece of advocacy for taking the (very) long view of things, and in this modern world, where everyone is fascinated with instant gratification and making sure the individual is taken care of right now, a little perspective could go a long way.
The beauty of Foundation, to me, is the slow and deliberate unfolding of a macro-narrative over the course of centuries, a true worldbuilding for the ages, where individual story arcs and particular characters—the staple of Hollywood theatre-fodder—are considered a very distant second to the main narrative of (psycho)historical change. I haven’t gone back to Foundation in a few years (this may change now; the first volume is open, on my desk, as I write this. It’s calling me back, like an old friend, and it’s a snowy day, perfect for diving into a tried and true book), but aside from Hari Seldon, the Mule, and maybe Dors Venabili, I can’t say that any one character sticks in my mind as particularly memorable—that’s not what Asimov’s writing was about!
I’m loathe to pronounce anything as “unfilmable.” That kind of blanket assertion seems to me to smack of a kind of close-minded intransigence towards creative exploration that I generally don’t abide (Watchmen haters, I’m looking at you). However, I can’t see how a two-and-a-half hour feature (or a trilogy of them, even), produced by a major Hollywood studio, helmed by an action-movie director, and probably starring a young Hollywood leading man, could ever hope to do justice to Asimov’s classic chronicle of the Galactic Empire's fall, resurgence, and the interregnum in between.
I could, however, see a smaller studio, such as maybe SciFi, taking it upon themselves to invest in making a longer-running episodic series, led by a competent showrunner, which would then set out to adapt the Foundation Saga (and maybe even include the Robot and Empire series, wouldn’t that be something!) in its entirety. This would require quite a commitment from the part of the studio, and—again—a long-term approach that is usually in very short supply among both Hollywood and TV executives, concerned as they are with this season’s ratings and only this season’s ratings.
Or maybe an adaptation’s true home would be on the internet, where smaller-scale, yet longer-running shows aren’t tied to the tyranny of a fixed broadcast schedule and its attendant concern with the here-and-now.
I don’t know. All I know is that a one-shot summer blockbuster helmed by Roland Emmerich based on Foundation does not bode well.