Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ Trilogy to be a Mini-Series?

Posted Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 06:00 pm GMT -4 by

Foundation Isaac Asimov

Right. So let’s lay it out here. I love Asimov. I’ve written graduate papers on ‘I, Robot’, and accomplished my senior dissertation by focusing on International Politics on the ‘Foundation’ trilogy. In short, I’m probably the first to fangirl over a ‘Foundation’ movie, and the last one to finish. But, when it was announced four years ago that a movie may be made, and then hinted at two years later, I knew that the inevitable silence that followed was… well.. inevitable.

The thing is with a lot of Asimov’s books, and case in point ‘I, Robot’, is that as fantastic as they are, they don’t translate well to movies. After all, if you get right down to it, ‘I, Robot’ is basically a series of short stories about robots who accidentally “malfunction” and how they get fixed. It’s essentially, a lot of talk about the ethics of AI and a not a very veiled metaphor for the Hegelian dialectic. Okay, that last part might just be me.

And what is ‘Foundation‘? An amazing series about… well, it’s hard to say. It’s about creating a civilization on the corner of a dying empire by using advanced mathematics, probabilities, and science in order to create a better, more perfect society, which is better for humanity. Well, really, it’s using all these things to predict the future by a made-up discipline called Psychohistory. If you haven’t read it, trust me when I say, it’s a book you do not put down. It’s a book you curse yourself for only buying the first one because now you have to wait until you can get the second and third.

But as a movie? Impossible.

I think there is a reason why books like ‘Cloud Atlas‘ don’t translate well to movies, and that is time jumps are not conducive for a two-hour cinema format. Especially, when the climax occurs within each short time line. There is, essentially, no such thing as an overarching plot that merits the dramatic closure that the medium of a movie demands.

It seems, then, that Roland Emmerich, who is perhaps more famous for his over-the-top action films like ’2012′, ‘Independence Day’, and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, agrees. In an interview with Empire Online, the director talked about his approach to ‘Foundation’ and about having second thoughts about making a big screen feature and adapting it into a mini-series instead:

“We’re trying to do it as a big mini-series, but even there you would have to change the story itself and set it in a time when the galaxy has fallen apart — and then you’re pretty much making a TV show with all these characters and playing all the scenes out. You can (do that) and we’ll see what happens. We tried so hard (to make it into a movie), honestly, because it’s one of my most favorite books. I just love it.”

I, of course, whole-heartedly agree. Though, even then, I think this may be to grand of a vision. Personally, however, I think ‘Foundation’ is more likely to fit a series of mini-series rather than one grand one. After all, what does the antagonistic “The Mule” have to do with the trials and tribulations of setting up “Foundation”? Each book is important in it’s own right, and only tangentially related to the other in the grand scheme of Psychohistory.

Now, I understand I sound very vague there. What I mean to say is that there are entire sets of characters who never know the other. Ever. It’s hard to have dramatic intrigue across one mini-series if you’re going to try to make it feel cohesive.

In short, I’m excited to see if ‘Foundation’ will ever come to fruition (thought it seems even Emmerich is doubtful), and I think the mini-series is a perfect way to tackle it. I, however, am slightly dubious that they won’t make the same mistakes with the mini-series that they would in a movie.


  • AnthonyP

    I guess this is a bit like Dune, the movie was good, but hard to include all the detail. But the mini series covered all the little topics to help make the story complete.

    • Snarky Nerd

      Good point. The Syfy Dune series was acceptable, to me. Something similar, for HBO, Showtime, A&E, Syfy, would work if thoughtfully produced. Emmerich and JJAbrams don’t need any of their DNA associated with this, though.

  • Des

    “Though, even then, I think this may be too grand of a vision. Personally, however, I think ‘Foundation’ is more likely to fit a series of mini-series’ rather than one grand one.”

  • AJ

    Each season could be a different setting with a different cast, same world, same themes, a common story running through them all. It would take some planning, but could definitely work.

  • dakine

    Caves of steel would be cool

  • Dan

    prelude to foundation alone would probably translate best to a movie or mini series.

  • Joey

    BBC did a radio series of the Foundation books. A condensed version, but still good.

  • JB the Hutt

    Would love to see Foundation made into a mini-series, but not by Roland Emmerich who typically makes uninspired schlock.

  • Pablo Pérez Gutiérrez de Velas

    Yes, Roland if you are reading this, think about this:

    Start Mini series with Robot Saga: Caves of Steel, Naked Sun (Detective series)

    Later tie-in with

    Foundation Trilogy.

    • David Oker

      I know; he needs to make a “I Robot” mini series, then an empire mini-series; well, he might be able to turn those into big screen movies.
      When all is said and done, he might not have the time in his life to do all that . . .

      • Pablo Pérez Gutiérrez de Velas

        Don’t loose hope, if we get to see it done it right would worth it

        • David Oker

          That’s why I’m hoping he does Foundation as a T.V. mini-series!

  • Violent

    They should do it as; Series – > Movie -> Series -> Series -> Movie – > Series.

  • Kari Sinkko

    As a Planner I support any need for a foundation movie/series combination. Alas, the the use of psychohistory is a bit of a flawed concept due to the irrationality of humans. Another algorithm of humanity need to be developed in turn, revealing the ignition of such a movie/series to become fruition.

    • airelon

      Never read the books?

      • Miss Moneypenny: Have you got a mission, James? – James Bond: Yes. I am to eliminate all free radicals.

    • Salvor Hardin

      The point of the whole series was that it wasn’t about the psychohistory in the end, it was about the second foundation. The psychohistory and the ‘plan’ were red herrings. You may wish to actually read/understand the books before commenting

      • Exactly!

        • Jonathan Swift

          I thought the whole point was that the fall of the empire was inevitable and to avoid the countless years of anarchy to follow the 2 foundations are set up in the hopes to cut that anarchy period down. The one foundation helps resolve the existential dilemma of the masses. The other helps a small group think they are the guiding hand. Both are counterweights to anarchy. I forget much the rest as it has been some time since I read all the books. The fun of reading is we all see different things and find our own theories. We are all fans… lets hug, watch I,Robot and cry over how wrong that movie was.

  • MWL2

    The hell are you talking about?

  • oldguyinnj

    Not sure why some here don’t seem to “get” your points. I agree with you that this classic piece of SF literature deserves a respectful translation to film. I too fear that our ridiculously “pc” media would force a compromised translation. Too bad our society cannot deal with cerebral material.

    • roderick_llewellyn

      True. Movies are very rarely about cerebral material, the format just really doesn’t lend itself to such. Also, movies typically cover a short period of time and a small number of characters interacting during that time. Foundation covered a huge swath of time. A TV series would be a better format, as movies just are too short to capture a story as big as Foundation.

      American movies in particular (if not comedies) are primarily about violence, of which there was practically none in Asimov’s work. Consider the travesty of the cinematic version of “I Robot”, which aside from the title and the name of the chief robotocist had no relation whatsoever to Asimov’s book. If there is a clear message in Asimov’s work, it’s that cleverness rules. But the message of American movies is that machismo, luck, money, and in-your-face style rule. There’s simply no intersection of concept. So why bother?

  • airelon

    “The thing is with a lot of Asimov’s books, and case in point ‘I, Robot’,
    is that as fantastic as they are, they don’t translate well to movies”

    Strongly disagree

    CREATIVE storytelling via visual medium.

    Simply needs a creative touch, willing to invent new rules, rather than fit Asmov’s work into pre-existing molds …

    • airelon

      “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by …. men” – ET

  • shedevil

    As the Foundation series is my absolutely favorite books it is my humble opinion that it is going to take someone with vision and the same love and passion for the books as we the fans to make movies worthy of these treasures. Let’s hope that when (not if) they are done they are given the treatment they deserve !

  • Paul D. Murray

    I always felt that Daneel and Baley would make a great Sci-Fi “Cop Show” Admintedly I’m currently only halfway through Forward the Foundation (I’m reading them Chronologicaly so thats book two of the Prequels) And Already I can see potential for much more than just a MINI series. I can something that runs and runs ala Game Of Thrones, Really hope this comes to pass

  • Jonathan Swift

    The thing is they are attempting to do the movie as a block buster. They have taken the hobbit and made it into 3 far too long movies. The foundation series would be like doing 9 star wars movies. You have to take time and don’t expect a huge hit of it., Make it for the market that loves it., They screwed up Ender’s game this way. All the cash they throw at actors and effects is a waste. They could do it like Game of Thrones which is working well. It depends how you want to play it out. Do you use the last 2 books which are really Hari Seldon books? Not having the Mule in it would be folly. It is essential as he shows that no matter how hard you try to plan things 1 unknown variable can screw up everything. But it is the individual variable or person that interests many people. And then do you include the Robot and Empire stories which cross over into the foundation saga? I have a head ache now and wish to read the 20+ books that all somehow play a part in the foundation series.

  • bikeromany

    The Foundation is more about thought than action. If they make it into a movie it’ll end up being the opposite. And they’d probably have someone like Tom Cruise play the Mule. Morgan Freeman would be Harry Sheldon.

  • Eric Talerico

    They need to look at smaller films for inspiration. Foundation is about politics and ideas – and will require a lot of thoughtful dialogue. Although flawed, the recent film of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Radio Free Albemuth” is a step in the right direction. It was a “My Dinner With Andre” for the science fiction set, and as such it was more adventurous and exciting than an action packed thriller based on the same material would have been.
    Sadly, when Hollywood takes on a Sci-fi project, they usually miss the boat. Even Classics like Blade Runner rely too much on effects and vision and too little on exposition of ideas through dialogue. Read Herbert, Heinlein, Asimov, any of the early classic Science Fiction greats and you see that the action and science are backdrops for amazing conversations about philosophy, politics, ideology, religion, sexuality and humanity that never seem to find their way into the movies, except in tiny sound-byte excerpts.

  • Mr_Josh_you_a

    This needs to be a trilogy in the form of the first 3 Star Wars films or The Matrix. I just can’t see anything less being able to include the level of detail required to lead the viewer through the same experience that we who have read it all experienced. I’ve read all of this series several times and any film offering must show something of the very young Harry as well. I am excited but skeptical.

  • Formedras

    I don’t think it would work, made by Americans for the US market, in any visual medium. I just finished reading a Gizmodo article about the differences between the US and UK regarding TV production, and I definitely agree with it. In this case, advertising anything Asimov with a name other than “I, Robot” is just not going to be profitable. Get the BBC to make it. Hopefully they’ll limit their use of British-accented characters. Perhaps just the Mycogenians and Chetter Hummin/R. Daneel Olivaw — not the Eto Demerzel persona. (That said, apparently HBO is having it made for their network. Announced after the publication of this article and about two and a half months before this comment. I predict failure, but seriously hope that it’s good for the book series’ fans, not the Ender’s Game movie fans.)

  • Peter F Model

    You would need to do a movie for each chapter, as a movie needs to consist of a simple structure with a single climax at the end – this would require massive padding, which may suit movies, but would result in a very large number of movies or shows.