There are classic epics that have, for decades, defied media’s desire to convert them from book to film. It wasn’t always about the cost or technology. In fact, in the end, it really always just came down to the size of the story.
Dune has been assailed many times (Lynch, Jodorowosky, SyFy)… and Denis Villeneuve may finally cracked that nut (assuming his part 2 pays off the way part 1 has). The Ender’s series had a misfire out of the gate and died. Lord of the Rings/Hobbit finally got its day. And Game of Thrones succeeded, but only with the help of multiple seasons and certainly not to the delight of all. We’ll see if Wheel of Time fares any better, but that’s just started.
But Foundation, which encompasses 20-something books ultimately, has never been tried till now. And it is quite the challenge. We can argue the relative merits of the writing and characters in the original, but the complexity and scope of Foundation, even in just the first three books, is magnificent. How do you wrap your arms around such a complex tale for a series?
First you get two creatives who aren’t afraid to tell an adult science fiction story. Josh Friedman (Snowpiercer, Emerald City) and David S. Goyer (Terminator: Dark Fate) both have a track record in various media bringing the genre to life. Add in consultants like Michael Cassutt and the result here is impressive. They don’t talk down to their audience, but also manage to explain a very complex political and cultural landscape so that it makes sense, even if they often have to leap multiple decades or even centuries back and forth to tell the tale. The result is something like The Expanse meets Game of Thrones.
But it isn’t just about the size and requirements of the stories, it is also about casts spanning generations. Dune has to follow Paul from tween to death and into the next generations. Foundation covers tens of thousands of years, so how do you focus a story when you will potentially have to get to know new people all the time. Well, there is some cleverness to that but it still comes down to having strong actors who can sell the issues and conflicts. At the fore in this series are the nearly unknown Lou Llobell (Voyagers) and Leah Harvey (Donmar Warehouse Shakespeare). They navigate the resulting story and other cast beautifully. Even against physical (and talented) giants like Lee Pace (Captain Marvel), Jared Harris (Sylvia), and Terrence Mann (Sense8) the hold their own and support their part of the truth.
Which brings us to one of the interesting changes/enhancements to the story: it allows women into roles of power. In addition to Llobell and Harvey, Laura Birn add some considerable weight and complexity to the story. And I’m sure there are others queued up from this first round that will grow in the next as well.
Happily, the series is already renewed, so we know the story will continue…at least for another group of episodes.