A few years ago it was announced that Roland Emmerich, whose specialty was smashing landmarks with CGI, was developing Isaac Asimov's Foundation saga as a feature film.
Naturally there was much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments as the imaginations of science fiction fans were assailed with images of Will Smith as Hari Seldon, a laser-blaster in each hand, blasting robots and aliens while screaming "Ah hell naw!" as a CGI tidal wave of lava topped with surfing Nazis sweeps over the White House.
However, a ray of hope has just broken through the clouds of despair.
Emmerich must have given up because HBO has contracted Jonathan Nolan, one of the smarter writers working in Hollywood, to develop the Foundation saga as a TV series.
I like Nolan, especially with his work on the series Person of Interest, which tells a massive, multilayered, and complex saga of paranoia, artificial intelligence, redemption, revenge, power, and the relationship between governments, bureaucracies, and the citizens they are supposed to serve, all while in the guise of an action packed vigilante crime procedural.
If anyone can do Foundation justice, I think Jonathan Nolan can.
However, I do have one source of trepidation.
It's going to be an HBO show.
Now you're probably wondering why I would be concerned since HBO has put out so many great shows, but I do have a valid point, just give me a second.
If you're not familiar with Asimov's magnum opus the Foundation series begins in the far future. A mighty Galactic Empire rules what appears to be an eternally stable society.
However, not everyone sees it that way.
Scientist Hari Seldon has developed a new field he calls "psychohistory" which calculates the movements of vast societies. His calculations predict that the Galactic Empire is on the way out, and that an age of chaos and darkness that could last millennia is on its way.
Hoping to mitigate the damage done to humanity Seldon starts The Foundation. The Foundation is a community of scientists, artists, and other experts on the remote planet of Terminus, and its their job, and the job of their descendants to rebuild a new society from the ashes of the Empire.
Now the book series has an episodic structure that actually suits a series adaptation very well. However, the cast changes radically changes from episode to episode since there are literally centuries separating some of them, which might hinder the audience getting attached to any specific characters for very long.
But those are just structural and narrative challenges that I'm pretty sure Nolan & Co. can handle. What I worry about is HBO and its philosophy.
Since HBO is a pay cable channel, it is not restrained by the rules about sex and violence that regulate what goes on broadcast and some levels of basic cable.
That's a double edged sword.
Because there are times when HBO gets hung up on putting things in shows just because they can, without asking whether or not they should.
The Foundation saga features a cast mostly of scientists, and intellectuals, with the occasional soldier and space traveller. It also contains almost no sex, which HBO is going to see as a problem. I can see the story conference going like this:
NOLAN: Now this is the scene where Hari Seldon explains how and when the Galactic Empire will start to collapse.
HBO EXEC: It's brilliant but we need Seldon to be having sex with a woman while two hot lesbians scissor each other in the background during this scene.
NOLAN: It takes place in a University lecture hall?
HBO EXEC: Change that to a brothel. Also, we need this Mule guy to rape some people. Gotta have more rapes. Plus we need the characters to say the word "Fuck" at least twenty times per episode.
HBO EXEC: Because we can, that means we have to.
Can you see why I'm worried. It may work on some shows, but in the age of easy access adult content via the internet, it's literally unnecessary to sell a show. Especially one with a large built in audience who might be creeped out by seeing a "sexed up" Foundation saga.
So let's hope that HBO knows when to hold'em and knows when to fold'em.