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Monday, October 25, 2021

Foundation Season 1 first impression: Apple’s sci-fi series features slick visuals but struggles with unwieldy source material

After watching Foundation's first two episodes, the series makes for a visually stunning experience, but one that is hobbled by its source material.

Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi |
September 27, 2021 2:01:26 pm
Foundation, apple tv plusFoundation is streaming on Apple TV Plus.

Apple TV Plus’ ambitious science fiction series Foundation faces a humongous challenge. Its source material, Isaac Asimov’s trilogy of books, has often been called ‘unfilmable’, something that the series embraces in its marketing. The original story is regarded as one of 20th century’s most important and influential works in sci-fi.

However, it is also unwieldy, with a massive plot structure spanning thousands of years and numerous characters, and Asimov is said to have written it across half a century. That is all well in literature, but it is often a huge challenge to translate to the screen.

But one that David S Goyer, the scribe who assisted Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan on The Dark Knight trilogy, feels he is up to it.

After watching the first two episodes, the series makes for a visually stunning experience, but one that is hobbled by its source material. Asimov’s books are certainly not bad, and they are relevant and scientifically sound even after five decades, but perhaps there is a good reason they were called unfilmable.

The story is set in the future. The setting is the final years of Galactic Empire, which incorporates the Milky Way galaxy. Jared Harris, Valery Legasov of Chernobyl, plays the lead role of mathematics professor Hari Seldon. Seldon ​has spent his life studying a new kind of mathematical sociology and his predictions indicate the fall of the Galactic Empire. He has developed a theory of psychohistory and uses it to make accurate predictions about the future of humanity.

As per his calculations, the tyrannical Galactic Empire is heading to destruction and it will be 30,000 years before a new empire rises and stability returns. He plans to limit that 30,000 year gap to 1000 years to reduce the suffering.

But the empire does not like his conclusions. Unlike in the books, there are three emperors, and all three are genetic clones of one person called Cleons. Called Brother Day, Brother Dawn, and Brother Dusk, this is an interesting change that works in the show’s favour. It helps that an actor of Lee Pace’s calibre is playing Brother Day, the clone with any real say in the affairs of the empire.

Harris is predictably great in the role of Seldon. It appears the veteran English actor is doomed to play men of reason towards whom the authorities are unfriendly.

But Foundation’s failing, thus far, is that it is not able to translate compelling storytelling in the books to compelling television. The visuals are great, and often the imagery is wonderful in Foundation. But the plot, particularly for those unfamiliar with the books, would make the show hard to wade through.

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