Sunday, 26 July 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #334: The Foundation Crumbles...

This may come as a bit of a shock to those of you who see me as a font of all things hip, trendy, and fashionable, but I have a confession to make. Growing up, I was, and still am, a science fiction fan.

I know, I spent a good part of my childhood literally consuming the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, and of course, Isaac Asimov.

In Junior High I read just about all of the Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, a sweeping epic about the collapse of a mighty Galactic Empire, and a small community dedicated to building a new civilization from the ashes of the old.

I just read a piece that announced that a Hollywood studio was going to make a movie from Foundation, which piqued my interest, then I realized that they were going to screw it all up as usual.

The word is that Roland Emmerich, Hollywood's master of overwrought bombast will helm the movie version of Foundation.

If you listen carefully, you can hear Asimov spinning in his grave.

Now Foundation is a tricky thing to adapt. First, it's not just one book, it's a series of novels, the first ones are collections of stories illustrating episodes in Asimov's future-history, without a single character to portray as the "star" except for Hari Seldon, who, not counting the prequels, is an old man in a wheelchair and an intellectual, not an Emmerich style action hero.

As a director Emmerich is more interested in overblown special effects than telling a coherent story, which is why he's been doing so many disaster movies lately. His solution to creative problems is to bring in a bigger tidal wave.

Now it is possible to adapt Foundation, I think that it can be done. However, I do believe that its episodic structure and constantly shifting cast of characters means that a satisfying big-screen feature film is most likely an impossibility.

I've always viewed Foundation as a limited run television series like I, Claudius, where a top notch, but relatively unknown cast brings to life a compelling story, that despite what Hollywood may think, does have enough action and suspense, and doesn't need any big tidal waves. With today's technology, it could even be done pretty cheaply if you don't blow it on stars that can't carry the weight of the project. Then you'll have fans buying the DVD box-set, watching the reruns on cable, and generally keeping it a perennial favourite that will keep it a money-earner well into the future. And then there's the merchandising, I know that may sound crass, but geeks will buy merch that they feel honours the original instead of mangling it.

This is Asimov's I, Robot, all over again. What was a fascinating and compelling drama about the nature of machines and humanity, transformed into just another over-loud, gun-blasting action fest that although profitable, was pretty much forgotten within 15 minutes of the film's release.

Now I'm having nightmares of Will Smith, or Tom Cruise as a gun toting Hari Seldon, blasting bad guys left and right while tossing off catch-phrases designed to sound cool to a 12 year old.

Please Hollywood, step back from the book. For your own good, please step back from the book.

What do you readers think of this revolting development, and how would you adapt Foundation, and with whom?


  1. As developments go it is, indeed, revolting. I seriously doubt I'll be catching it when it comes out.

    I gave up on Hollywood adaptations of cherished science fiction novels about the time the abortion that was called "Starship Troopers" hit the big screen. I'll never forgive them for that one.

    I agree that the Foundation Trilogy could be brought to the screen, much the way you described. Make it a mini-series and use good "That Guy" type character actors to fill the roles. You know the ones. They are good solid actors that everybody has seen but nobody knows their name because they spend their time making movies instead of posing for People magazine.

    Anyway, unless something drastic happens I doubt I will ever waste my time and/or money watching this one.

  2. An after-thought. The only role character that comes to mind in the trilogy for which an actor also waves at my hind-brain is in the third book.

    The character of Preem Palvar, AKA: First Speaker of the Second Foundation would be a good spot for John Rhys-Davies.

    I'll have to give some thought to the rest.... A lot of characters in there.

  3. The Starship Troopers film was nothing more than the novel's title slapped on a film that was going to be known as Verhoven's Bugwar.

    That is the problem with Sci-fi or fantasy films. If you want a big screen movie you need name recognition like Lord of the Rings.

    A studio will not spend 100+ million on a film if they do not think people are going to see it.

    This is why the newest and latests greatest Sci-fi epic did not premier on the silver screen. It premiered in 1999 on the Xbox and spawned two sequels and several spinoffs, it is known as HALO.

    The VG world is right now where the traditional space opera scifi is thriving right now, and it seems like a perfect match. Scifi is always about technology and videogames are technological based entertainment.

  4. Now that I think about it, I could have made a complete TV series adaptation of the entire Foundation series for the $60 million+ spent on Soderbergh's Che.

  5. D!
    You never read The Lensmen Saga?! E.E.'Doc' Smith was the man who created what we call now as 'Space Opera'. Find that series quick for it's been out of print for decades now. His 'Skylarks of Outer Space' was not as grand, but just as fun to read.

    Speaking of 'Foundation'. Is it not but the 'Shyamalan-ding-dong' of surprise endings you've ever read before?

    Harlen Ellison wrote a script for 'I, Robot' that I believe could've done the series proud. Sure he's an ass-hat suing fool, but he can sure write some awful purtte work. Since it was never going to be made, the script was published in the early '90s by I vaguely believe Del Rey. Ellison wrote in his preface that he decided -when he was given the chance to write the script- to ensure that it was never going to be made. He wrote that what was in the script, would cost over 250 million dollars or more to make!...

    Isn't that quaint.

  6. I have the Ellison I Robot script.

    Ellison would probably sue me for saying this, but I could have made it for less than $60 million. You just have to avoid getting stars involved.

    I haven't read the Lensmen, though I have heard of them.