Even though I’m not a rabid Isaac Asimov nerd or anything, I have long puzzled at the peculiar lack of Asimov film adaptations, good or bad. Considering that Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time (in any genre), with scores of award winning classic novels and short story collections, there have been almost no feature film adaptations of his work. You can count the number of feature films taken from his writing on one hand, and the most noteworthy of that small lump are the forgettable Robin Williams schmaltz-fest Bicentenial Man and the equally forgettable Will Smith practice in mediocrity I, Robot. What is truly so bizarre about this void is that seemingly every fourth sci-fi movie made in the past 30 years has been a Philip K. Dick adaption, but whereas Dick’s writings were such inspired madness that the films inevitably end up bearing little resemblance to their sources, a great quantity of Asimov’s works are straight-forward mysteries or thrillers, and could very easily be adapted into a film. That is, except his magnum opus, the cerebral, philosophically driven Foundation Series. So, of course, that is the one that someone is finally trying to make into a big budget studio film. And of course, that someone is that dearth of subtly, Roland Emmerich.
For those unfamiliar, there are seven books in the Foundation series, but four of the books came decades after the heart of the series, the original Foundation Trilogy – Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation - which won the Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in the late 60’s (beating Lord of the Rings). It is hard to briefly sum up the trilogy, but the gist is thus: In the way distant future, a brilliant mathematician named Hari Seldon figures out a way to mathematically predict human destiny, but only on a large scale. He foresees the downfall of the central human empire and forms a civilization on the fringe of the universe known as the Foundation. Even aside from the action-free, historical-writing nature of the trilogy, the other major obstacle that has always held back an adaption is the book’s lack of a protagonist. Seldon is the only character in all the books, but he only figures into the very beginning of the first book, then reappears briefly in intervals as a pre-recorded hologram in the other books.
Anyway, the books are fantastic if you haven’t read them. Needless to say, I was not particularly excited when Rolland Emmerich announced that he wanted to make a Foundation film last year. So I was pleased when news on the project kinda dried up. Alas, it seems like Emmerich was merely distracted by his latest film, an Elizabethan political thriller called Anonymous. The Earth’s destruction fetishist told Empire that his Foundation is very much moving forward:
“Tweaks to Robert Rodat’s script aside, decision time is fast approaching for the CG-fuelled adaptation. Says Emmerich: “We’ve hired a production designer and it’s mainly now to find out what the movie will cost. It’ll take us until the end of March, then we’ll decide. The studio’s happy with the script, but now’s the time that the numbers count. I want to make a movie that’s very different from other science-fiction movies and I don’t want to have the burden of too big a budget.””
It pleases me that the film is not quite a foregone conclusion just yet. There is a decent chance it won’t get off the ground. I don’t hate Emmerich. I actually thought 2012 was good preposterous fun, and his final sentence in that quote implies he at least vaguely understands Foundation isn’t an action space opera. But nonetheless, he is such the wrong person for this film. Nothing on his resume suggests that he has the interest or ability to show the kind of restraint Foundation would need. Though, frankly, I’m not even sure what a good Foundation movie would be, even with a more appropriate filmmaker helming the project. People said Lord of the Rings was unfilmable, but at least that had a central mission with a clear beginning, middle and an end, with a core of central characters and an obvious hero.