Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are among the greatest sci-fi books ever written – but no one has dared to film them, until now. The result is a true TV event, writes Neil Armstrong.
Filmmaker David S Goyer was working alongside James Cameron as a scriptwriter on Terminator: Dark Fate, when he received the news that the rights to the science-fiction classic Foundation by visionary author Isaac Asimov had become available. Was he interested?
"I remember James Cameron just looked at me and said, 'That one's hard'," Goyer tells BBC Culture in a video call. If the director of epics including Aliens, The Terminator, Titanic and Avatar tells you a project is difficult, it tends to give you pause for thought.
Jared Harris (best known for Mad Men and Chernobyl) plays Hari Seldon, who predicts the collapse of society (Credit: Apple TV+)
There have been several attempts to bring Foundation to the screen, but the series of books was long held to be unfilmable because the saga weaves together so many plotlines and spans centuries. Indeed, the writing of it spanned half a century. But now the "unfilmable" has finally been filmed and this week an adaptation of Foundation starring Jared Harris and Lee Pace premieres on Apple TV+.
Foundation began as a series of short stories in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in the 1940s and eventually became a trilogy of books published in the 1950s. With them, Asimov wanted to portray the fall of some great future civilisation. A professor of biochemistry at Boston University and the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he had been inspired by Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as well as Arnold Toynbee's theories about cycles of history. Then in the 1980s, Asimov started adding books to the sequence – two prequels and two sequels. He died in 1992 but other authors have, with the blessing of the Asimov estate, written works set in the Foundation universe.