At today’s 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple dropped the first teaser trailer for Foundation, a new TV series for Apple TV adapted from Isaac Asimov’s seminal Foundation series of novels. The new show, which stars Jared Harris and Lee Pace, had already begun filming when the global pandemic shut down production in March. The teaser offers our first glimpse of what this highly anticipated series will look like, as well as a few peeks behind the curtain on set.
(Mild spoilers for the first book in the Foundation series below.)
The series started out as eight short stories by Asimov that appeared in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and early 1950, inspired in part 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 next pair of stories became Foundation and Empire (1952), with the final two stories appearing in 1953’s 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 pair of prequels: Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993), the latter published posthumously. (Asimov died in 1992.)
The original trilogy centered on a mathematician named Hari Seldon, who has developed a mathematical approach to sociology he calls “psychohistory” that enables him to predict the future of large populations—like the Galactic Empire, which incorporates all inhabitants of the Milky Way. Unfortunately, Seldon’s theory predicts an imminent collapse of the empire—well, in 500 years, which is certainly imminent on galactic time scales. This will usher in a Dark Age lasting 30,000 years, after which a second empire will arise. The news is not well received by the members of the Committee on Public Safety, who essentially rule the empire, and Seldon is forced to stand trial for treason, along with a brilliant young mathematical protege named Gaal.
In his defense, Seldon argues that he cannot stop the collapse, but there is a way to limit those Dark Ages to just 1,000 years. He proposes creating a Foundation, a group of the most intelligent minds in the empire, charged with preserving all human knowledge in the Encyclopedia Galactica. Rather than executing Seldon, the committee decides to exile 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 establishment 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 at the other end of the galaxy.
New Line Cinema tried to develop a film version of the Foundation trilogy back in 1998, spending a cool $1.5 million on the project before throwing in the towel and signing on to produce The Lord of the Rings film trilogy instead. Columbia Pictures tried to do the same in 2009, with Roland Emmerich attached to direct, but that project never happened either. HBO acquired the rights in 2014, with Jonathan Nolan aboard to adapt it into a TV series, which also failed to materialize. Finally, Apple commissioned a 10-episode straight-to-series order, with David Goyer serving as showrunner.
The official premise is short and sweet: Foundation “chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire.” We don’t have many details beyond that and no sense of how closely the series will hew to its source material—but it’s a good sign that Robyn Asimov, the novelist’s daughter, serves as one of the executive producers.
Harris plays Seldon, with Pace co-starring as Brother Day, current Emperor of the Galaxy. Lou Llobell plays Gaal, Leah Harvey plays a gender-swapped Salvor, warden of Terminus, and Laura Birn plays Eto Demerzel, aide to Brother Day. Other listed characters include Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann), the ruling family’s oldest living member, and Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), the youngest member and heir apparent to Brother Day.
The teaser trailer opens with some brief commentary from Goyer, noting all the past efforts to adapt Foundation over the last 50 years, as well as the enormous influence the series had on Star Wars. “The story is sprawling, the scope is sprawling, it unfolds over the course of a thousand years,” Goyer says. This being an Apple event, naturally there’s also a bit of corporate promotion: “If ever there were a company that was hoping to better people’s lives through technology, through connectivity, it’s Apple, and that’s something very much that Asimov was hoping to do.”
Then the official teaser begins, and we see Seldon telling Gaal that they will both be arrested the following day and tried for treason. The crime: applying psychohistory to predict the future—specifically, to predict a very bad future for the Galactic Empire. “They’re worried people believe I can [predict the future], and they don’t like the future I predict,” Seldon says. “The empire will fall. Order will vanish. This rash of events is rushing to meet us.” And we hear Gaal say, “Maybe we can shorten the darkness.”
In short, the teaser lays out the basic premise, along with some visually stunning shots of the scenes that had been completed before the shutdown. It looks gorgeous, Harris and Pace are inspired choices for the leading roles, and this might just be the kind of must-see content 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
Listing image by Apple TV