While direct adaptations of writer Isaac Asimov’s work are rather thin on the ground (with the films I, Robot and Bicentennial Man being the most prominent examples), his influence has pervaded science fiction for decades. George Lucas has spoken about how Asimov influenced Star Wars (particularly its depiction of droids); the android Lt Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation is fitted with a positronic brain – a hypothetical CPU that allows learning – which was conceived by Asimov. Perhaps this is all why Foundation, the Apple TV+ adaptation of his magnum opus feels so frustratingly familiar.
In the very distant future (Asimov himself said Foundation takes place around 50,000 years from now), humanity has colonised the stars. The Galactic Empire is ruled by a predictably cruel system, overseen by the cloned Emperor Brother Day (Lee Pace) on the planet Trantor. But the fall of the empire has been predicted by a mathematical formula devised by Hari Seldon (Jared Harris). To speak of such a thing is heresy, and, after narrowly avoiding execution, Seldon and his young protégé Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) are exiled to the far reaches of the galaxy, tasked with finding a way to avoid the impending catastrophe.
It’s all a bit much. TV pilots are difficult to execute well, and Foundation flounders. The first episode almost frantically jumps around as it seeks to introduce and contextualise its characters and settings, all the while trying to inflate the mysticism and mythology that should, in theory, give the series the grandiose epic feeling it was aiming for. It crams a lot into its opening episode, but still manages to feel slow – often ponderously so. This problem is not rectified in the following episodes either.
There are a number of peculiar creative choices to contend with too. The cast is predominantly British, with many of them using their own accents, however, several British cast members (for mystifying reasons) speak with affected American accents. Earth itself has practically become legend in Asimov’s Foundation novels, and so perhaps this strategic accenting was intended to create accessibility for American viewers. As Gaal, Llobell speaks with a British accent while randomly flattening vowels, like a New Zealander whose elocution lessons weren’t entirely successful. It’s all pointlessly strange, and somewhat distracting.
The whole “been there, done that” feeling settles in immediately, and is impossible to shake. Although Asimov’s ideas may have been profoundly unique when Foundation was published in 1951, the 2021 adaptation disappointingly marches to the beat of someone else’s drum.
Foundation is released on Apple TV+ on 24th September 2021.
Watch a teaser trailer for Foundation here: