At today’s 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple released the first teaser trailer for: Foundationa new TV series for Apple TV adapted from Isaac Asimov’s groundbreaking Foundation series of novels. The new show, starring Jared Harris and Lee Pace, had already started filming when the global pandemic halted production in March. The teaser offers a first glimpse of what this highly anticipated series will look like, as well as a few glimpses behind the curtain at the set.
(Mild spoilers for the first book in the Foundation series below.)
The series began as eight short stories by Asimov that appeared in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and early 1950, partly inspired by Edward Gibbons’ History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire† The first four of those stories were collected, along with a new introductory story, and published as Foundation in 1951. The following pair of stories became: Foundation and Empire (1952), with the last two stories appearing in 1953 Second Foundation† Asimov’s publishers eventually convinced him to continue the series, starting with two sequels: Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986). Next came a few prequels: Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993), the last published posthumously. (Asimov died in 1992.)
The original trilogy was centered on a mathematician named Hari Seldon, who developed a mathematical approach to sociology he calls “psychohistory” that allows him to predict the future of large populations – such as the Galactic Empire, which includes all inhabitants of the Milky way includes. Unfortunately, Seldon’s theory predicts an imminent collapse of the empire – well, 500 years from now, which is certainly imminent on galactic timescales. This will usher in a dark age lasting 30,000 years, after which a second empire will emerge. The news is not well received by the members of the Public Safety Committee, who essentially rule the empire, and Seldon is forced to stand trial for treason, along with a brilliant young mathematician protégé named Gaal.
In his defense, Seldon argues that he can’t stop the collapse, but there is a way to limit those dark ages to just 1000 years. He proposes establishing a Foundation, a group of the most intelligent minds in the realm, charged with preserving all human knowledge in the Encyclopedia Galactica. Instead of executing Seldon, the committee decides to banish him to a remote world called Terminus, along with the members of the new Foundation, where they can begin compiling the encyclopedia. Much of the first book in the trilogy follows the founding of the colony on Terminus and the various political machinations that shape its early history, along with a startling revelation: Unbeknownst to the committee, Seldon has established a second Foundation on the other. side of the universe.
New Line Cinema tried to develop a film version of the Foundation trilogy in 1998, spending a cool $1.5 million on the project before throwing in the towel and signing up to produce Under the spell of the Ring movie trilogy instead. Columbia Pictures tried to do the same in 2009, with Roland Emmerich directing, but that project never materialized either. HBO acquired the rights in 2014, with Jonathan Nolan on board to turn it into a TV series, which also failed to take off. Finally, Apple ordered an outright order for 10 episodes, with David Goyer as showrunner.
The official premise is short and sweet: Foundation “tells a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire.” Other than that, we don’t have many details and we have no idea how close the series will stay to the source material, but it’s a good sign that Robyn Asimov, the novelist’s daughter, is one of the executive producers.
Harris plays Seldon, with Pace starring as Brother Day, the current Emperor of the galaxy. Lou Llobell plays Gaal, Leah Harvey plays a gender-swapped Salvor, guardian of Terminus, and Laura Birn plays Eto Demerzel, Brother Day’s assistant. Other characters mentioned include Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann), the oldest living member of the ruling family, and Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), the youngest member and heir to Brother Day.
The teaser trailer begins with a short commentary from Goyer, citing all previous attempts to adapt Foundation over the past 50 years, as well as the massive influence the series has on Star Wars† “The story is vast, the scope is vast, it unfolds over a thousand years,” Goyer says. As this is an Apple event, of course, there’s also a bit of corporate promotion: “If ever there was a company that hoped to improve people’s lives through technology, through connectivity, it’s Apple, and that’s something Asimov very much hoped to do.”
Then the official teaser kicks in and we see Seldon telling Gaal that they will both be arrested and tried for treason the next day. The Crime: Applying psychohistory to predict the future, especially to predict a very bleak future for the Galactic Empire. “They’re concerned that people believe I can do it” [predict the future], and they don’t like the future I predict,” Seldon says. “The empire will fall. Order will disappear. This wave of events is coming our way.” And we hear Gaal say, “Maybe we can shorten the darkness.”
Basically, the teaser explains the premise, along with some visually stunning shots of the scenes completed before the close. It looks beautiful, Harris and Pace are inspired picks for the lead roles, and this is arguably the kind of must-have content that Apple TV Plus really needs to become a truly major player in the streaming wars.
Foundation will debut on Apple TV Plus in 2021.
Behind the scenes
List image by Apple TV