Asimov’s “Foundation” Finally Moving Forward?

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.” — Hari Seldon, Foundation

It looks as though Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” may finally be on its way to the small screen.

Asimov’s original concept was serialized in Astounding Magazine back in 1942 through 1950. He then fleshed out his time- and galaxy-spanning narrative into a series of books: the “Foundation Trilogy” (Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953)), followed much later by two sequels (Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986)) and two prequels (Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993)). The original trilogy won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966. Since Asimov’s passing in 1992, other authors have added to the corpus of “Foundation” stories, with blessings of the Asimov estate but varying commercial and critical success.

Instead of attempting to summarize the, er, foundational framework for Asimov’s novels, I’ll let Wikipedia do it:

“The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second great empire arises. Seldon’s calculations also show there is a way to limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To ensure the more favorable outcome and reduce human misery during the intervening period, Seldon creates the Foundation – a group of talented artisans and engineers positioned at the twinned extreme ends of the galaxy – to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for the accelerated resurgence of this new galactic empire.”

Itself influenced by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Foundation series is generally acknowledged as influencing other science-fiction ranging from Star Wars to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as noted individuals including Elon Musk and Newt Gingrich. I remember reading the trilogy and Prelude a couple decades or so ago and generally enjoying them. Of course, I didn’t understand it all. As is typical for Asimov’s writing, they are much more cerebral than action-oriented. For what it’s worth, I always thought the term “psychohistory” was a bit clunky and imprecise. On the other hand, I suppose it does sound like something a sci-fi author might come up with in the 1940s/50s. 🙂

Fox, Warner Bros., and Sony have all attempted at one time or another to get a Foundation feature film off the ground with various big names attached, but they all failed. HBO teamed with Jonathan Nolan to get a series underway not long ago, but they never even got an order for a script. Last June, though, Deadline announced that Skydance Television (Altered Carbon, Jack Ryan) was trying to close a deal with the Asimov estate for them — along with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Blade) and Josh Friedman (“The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, War of the Worlds) — to adapt Foundation into a TV series. Then, just a few days ago, Deadline gave an update. Skydance has concluded their deal with the Asimov estate, with Goyer and Friedman serving as showrunners and sharing executive producer credits with Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

Just as surprising (to me, anyway) was the fact that it was Apple who has ordered the straight-to-series development project. But, then, I’m not really up on what Apple has been doing in this area. As per Deadline,

“The project shows a different level of ambition for Apple’s worldwide video programming team led by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. In November, they set their first scripted series, a morning show drama executive produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, with a two-season, straight-to-series order. Apple also has given straight-to-series orders to Amazing Stories, a re-imagining of the anthology from Steven Spielberg, a Ronald D. Moore space drama, a Damien Chazelle series, a comedy starring Kristin Wiig, world-building drama See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence, as well as an M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller.”

That all sounds pretty ambitious to me, especially for a fledgling outfit! According to Joseph Keller at iMore:

“The company has said nothing about how these new shows will be distributed, when they’ll premiere, or how much it will cost to watch them.”

Reports are that Apple will be keeping its shows “family-friendly”, too, and that suits me just fine.

For various reasons, many have deemed the Foundation series to be un-adaptable for the screen, and they may be right. However, I am intrigued by the idea — as long as Goyer et al. respect the source material fairly closely, of course — and I hope we are pleasantly surprised by the result. (Obviously, a small-screen series sounds like a much more realistic undertaking for something of such scope, even to adapt just one of the books.) I’m rootin’ for ya, guys! But, just so you know, I am not gonna buy an Apple TV….

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Amazon Takes Us Back to Middle Earth

“We are honored [and] thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.” — Sharon Tal Yguado, new Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios

This one’s for real, folks! Honest!

Unlike the April Fool’s Day joke announcement of earlier this year, this deal looks to be entirely legit. Specifically, following a “bidding war” between several networks, Amazon has reached an agreement with the Tolkien Estate and the Tolkien Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, making Amazon Studios “the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings.”

Rivendell by Alan Lee

To clarify, they aren’t actually going to be re-doing the LotR (or Hobbit) material, which I think is a good thing. What exactly they will be doing apparently hasn’t been decided on, yet, which makes it all that more surprising that the Tolkien people agreed to it. What we do know is that the series will focus on events that occur sometime prior to those in The Fellowship of the Ring. Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, publicly expressed confidence in the “exceptional ideas” by Tal Yguado and the rest of the Amazon Studios team.

Shaun Gunner, Chair of The Tolkien Society, speculates:

“[T]here is also a lot of excitement about the possibility of exploring the epic saga that is The Silmarillion, or even a series focussed on Aragorn’s background. Christmas has come early for many of us today.”

No cast or premiere date have been set, but the series will eventually stream on Amazon Prime. If things go well, there is also an option for a spin-off series down the line.

This deal comes on the heels of legal issues and a recent executive shake-up at Amazon Studios, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ new mandate that they shift “away from niche, naturalistic series such as “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” and toward large-scale genre programming with potential for broad international appeal.” Bezos, who is a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, reportedly even got personally involved in negotiations for the Tolkien property’s TV series rights.

Naturally, fans will be concerned that the sets, writing, acting, etc., will be up to par. And, assuming the storylines are adaptations of existing Tolkien works, it needs to be at least as faithful to the source material as the Peter Jackson movies were — some would say “much more faithful!” Re-creating the various lands and peoples of Middle Earth ain’t gonna be cheap, either. Plus, as Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd asks:

“Can a network find writers who can successfully bootstrap a relatively new-ish story set in these familiar fantasy worlds that capture at least some percentage of the original work’s worldwide appeal?”

I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but I wonder if the talented Robert Kirkman might be a creative resource for the project. If you can’t place the name, Kirkman is the creator/writer of the “Outcast” and “The Walking Dead” comic series, who then went on to work with Tal Yguado (when she was at Fox) on the TV adaptations of those titles. When his special 2-year development deal with Amazon’s Prime Video was announced back in August, Kirkman and Tal Yguado spoke of their mutual admiration and anticipation of working together again. I’m not sure if he can or would work on a licensed property that he hasn’t at least co-created. Don’t know if he’s a Tolkien fan, either. But, if so, that could be an interesting match.

Regardless, all we can do is pray, hope, and wait & see….

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. Enough so that I may actually, finally re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years, just to get in the mood. Who knows, I might even give The Silmarillion another try and possibly some of the lesser known tales of Middle Earth. I’ve had my hardcover editions of The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy with the amazing Alan Lee paintings on display for awhile, so it’s about time I read ’em!

The Silmarillion TV/Movie Deal

I (almost) forgot all about this! I mean, I added the tentative Dec. 13, 2018, date for the first movie release to my “Upcoming Movie Release Dates” page back in September. But, I forgot to post about it.

As I may have mentioned before, I am not very knowledgeable regarding The Silmarillion. (In fact, I’m not nearly as big a Tolkien-geek as I’d like to be, and it has been many years since I read The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy. If only I had more time….) I used to have a paperback copy of The Silmarillion (see pic to the right), which sat unread on my shelf for quite awhile, before I finally picked it up. But, I couldn’t get into it and didn’t get very far before being distracting with other stuff, never to return.

For those who don’t know, or can’t remember much more than I can about it, here is a quick Wikipedia summary of the contents of The Silmarillion:

The Silmarillion comprises five parts. The first part, Ainulindalë, tells of the creation of Eä, the ‘world that is‘. Valaquenta, the second part, gives a description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural powers in Eä. The next section, Quenta Silmarillion, which forms the bulk of the collection, chronicles the history of the events before and during the First Age, including the wars over the Silmarils [i.e., three brilliant jewels composed of the unmarred light of the Two Trees of Valinor] that gave the book its title. The fourth part, Akallabêth, relates the history of the Downfall of Númenor and its people, which takes place in the Second Age. The final part, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, is a brief account of the circumstances which led to and were presented in The Lord of the Rings.

The five parts were initially separate works, but it was the elder Tolkien’s express wish that they be published together. Because J.R.R. Tolkien died before he finished revising the various legends, Christopher gathered material from his father’s older writings to fill out the book. In a few cases, this meant that he had to devise completely new material in order to resolve gaps and inconsistencies in the narrative.”

If I remember correctly, it was mostly 3rd-person narrative — which could be filmed in a sort of documentary style — but not much in the way of stories with protagonists following a plot, etc. But, that’s based on a vague memory of a brief exposure to probably just the first part of the book. So, I could very well be wrong. Still, as I said in a previous post, “any attempt to do more Tolkien movies would have to take a lot more creative license to flesh out a complete, movie-length story than even Jackson’s team has done. But, some of it might work as a TV series, or maybe a series of mini-series….”

So, here’s the scoop…

The news originally broke on or slightly before Aug. 1, 2016, on (now-defunct) OneRingtoRule.com, but Moviepilot’s JabberTalky jumped on the story with his own article, announcing,

“New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, MGM and Showtime have officially announced the completion of a deal with the Tolkien Estate to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel, The Silmarillion, in a cross-platform deal that will include a multi-film franchise and premium cable television show to air on Showtime.

Warner Bros. confirms they will be going straight into preproduction, shooting the first two films back-to-back with a release date of December 13th, 2018 for the first installment.”

No director or cast were announced at the time, of course. But, Peter Jackson is set to executive produce and screenwriter Michael Arndt is adapting the first chapter. These are very good signs.

Now, this could be really good! With feature films and a Showtime series, they can cover a lot of ground. It will be very interesting to see how they break it all down, mixing historical narrative with action and romance, etc. I hope they are able to faithfully flesh out the stories and personalities of characters like Morgoth, Sauron, Feanor, Beren & Lúthien, etc. And, of course, they need to maintain the wonderful, visual style of Jackson’s previous Tolkien films, along with the beautiful soundtrack music, all of which captures the depth and tone of Tolkien’s mythology.

 

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P.S.  April Fool! Gotcha! Sorry, but I couldn’t publish this w/o letting you all know it was a joke. Sorry about that. I share your pain. In fact, I wrote this back in January, thinking the announcement was real. I was finishing it up, when I read some of the comments on the Moviepilot article, which were dated April 2014. Dang it!

P.P.S.  According to this piece at iDigitalTimes, Christopher Tolkien didn’t care for Jackson’s take on his father’s material, and he is quite intent on keeping other Tolkien properties away from the award-winning director. Oh, well! Maybe some other worthy will get the Tolkien blessing….

P.P.P.S.  Here’s a more recent article discussing the difficulties of adapting The Silmarillion, while expressing a wish for a “Game of Thrones”-style series by HBO.

UPDATE 11/4/2017:  As far as I can tell, the following article is for real: “‘Lord of the Rings’ TV Series Being Considered By Amazon”.

Bits-n-Pieces II

To be honest, I wasn’t able to focus on a regular post this week. So, as I’ve done on a couple past occasions, I’m going to make relatively brief comments on a handful of recent genre announcements & developments….

Small Screen

star-trek-discovery-1920Item #1: A few things have developed re the upcoming ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ series since I last blogged about it in August, but even then I didn’t comment on everything we knew. For example, producer Bryan Fuller had said that the show’s primary protagonist will be a female Lt. Commander (a la Majel Barrett’s “Number One” in the original TOS pilot). There will be more “diversity” in the ship’s crew, particularly in terms of one or more LGBT characters. I’m not thrilled about this, though I’m not surprised for a number of reasons — e.g., the “progressive” nature of the franchise, Hollywood’s push for LGBT characters, Fuller is a part of that community, etc. He also indicated that they will push the Star Trek boundaries by possibly having a bit of nudity and more profanity. I’m not thrilled with this, either. I guess they can get away with it, since it won’t be on network TV; but, it also flies in the face of one “rule” Paramount/CBS has always had about keeping all Star Trek productions — including fan-made — “family friendly”. If they do proceed with this, I hope it is quite limited. Fortunately, Fuller did say,

“Star Trek’s not necessarily a universe where I want to hear a lot of profanity, either.”

In September, it was announced that STDisc’s debut was being pushed from January to May 2017. I had mixed feelings about this, but I’m not mad; if they need the extra time to make a great show, they should take it. Then Variety broke the story that Fuller had stepped down as showrunner, due to scheduling conflicts. Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts (and Alex Kurtzman?) stepped up as co-showrunners, while Fuller remained as executive producer. This caused a lot of hubbub re the show’s direction, but Fuller remains the chief architect.

“Fuller has penned the first two scripts for “Discovery” and has hammered out the broader story arc and mythology for the new “Trek” realm.” — Variety

Given his intentions, I obviously have mixed feelings about this. (I like his idea of making it less episodic and having a multi-episode story arc, and I’m intrigued with the concept of making the ship’s captain merely a supporting player.) It was also indicated that Romulans may be the primary villains in the series, and that would seem to work for the era in which it will be taking place (i.e., 10 years prior to ST:TOS).

Item #2: Just a couple days ago, Marvel announced that it is teaming up with Disney|ABC Television Group and IMAX to develop a “Marvel’s The Inhumans” TV series. It will actually debut the first two episodes in IMAX theaters in September 2017. (That’s fast!) Not only is IMAX co-financing the project, but the IMAX cameras/tech will provide enhanced imagery and visual effects. Cool! Oh,… after the debut in theaters, the full 8 episodes will show on ABC starting in the Fall, “with additional exclusive content that can only be seen on the network.” Very cool!

1173129-inhumansThis show will not be connected to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (This likely also means there will not be an Inhumans movie connected to the MCU.) So, the “inhuman” characters we have seen in the S.H.I.E.L.D. series will not be involved in this one. In fact, the new show will be centered on the Inhumans’ Royal Family that fans know from the comics and animated series (see pic).

I was always a fan of the Inhumans, with their unique society and ties to the Fantastic Four and X-Men (and the Kree race, of course). I look forward to seeing the city of Attilan and its odd denizens. If they do this right, I will be a very happy camper! (I feel a multi-part fan-casting coming on….)

Item #3: Another very recent announcement came from HBO — namely, there are official talks with author/creator George R.R. Martin about a “Game of Thrones” prequel show to follow the fan-favorite series. No details, as yet. As per HBO programming president Casey Bloys,

“[I]t’s still kind of preliminary ongoing talks. There are [time periods within GoT history] we are exploring, but I wouldn’t point to any one and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

Big Screen

Item #4: OK, part of this has been known for a few months, but stick with me…. For quite awhile, there was some question about whether or not we would see a new Batman solo movie or a proper sequel to Man of Steel. Now, the answer to both is “Yes!” Actually, it was back in Spring of this year (2016) that we found out Ben Affleck would be co-writing (with DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns) and starring in a Batman solo movie. Affleck was determined to complete a script he was happy with before he would begin filming. He also said he wanted to create an original story, borrowing familiar things from the comics, and that he wants to showcase Batman’s detective skills. (Amen to that!)

In the Summer it was confirmed that Affleck would be directing, and the tentative title is “The Batman”. More recently, Joe Manganiello signed on to play Deathstroke — presumably the main villain. The film is currently scheduled for release in Oct. 2018.

As for the Man of Steel 2, in August 2015 we got conflicting reports that George Miller would be directing and that the film was on “permanent hold”. But, a year later TheWrap announced that a Man of Steel sequel was finally in active development at Warner Bros. and “a top priority for the studio”. Henry Cavill’s agent, Dany Garcia, confirmed this in an interview with Newsweek in September, saying:

“[Cavill and I have] been in a five-month period of time where he’s re-strategizing, acquiring property [for his production company Promethean], he’s filming [Justice League] now, he’s in development for the Superman standalone… he’s beginning to expand that world.”

Man of Steel 2 likely won’t arrive in theaters until late 2019.

I have to say, I am psyched for both of these. Yes, I know: “It’s Batfleck!”… “Man of Steel and DvJ were too dark!”… “They changed too much stuff.”… yada, yada. I have already explained in previous posts that I share some of these concerns and also why I’m OK with other aspects. My hope is that the respective creative teams will respect the fans’ input and address those “problems” in the new films. For example, I am fine with a darker, more violent and cynical Batman at this stage in his career. But, I want the Superman film to have a more positive, brighter tone, both visually and thematically speaking.

negasonic-teenage-warhead-ego-the-living-planetItem #5: Only a couple days ago, it was reported that Marvel and Fox had worked out a “backroom deal” to trade characters. Well, not “trade” exactly, and this actually happened a couple years ago….

You may or may not remember — I always get this stuff confused — that 20th Century Fox owns the cinematic rights to all things X-Men related (including Deadpool), among other things, while Marvel Studios owns the cinematic rights to Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers. While developing Deadpool, the writers decided they really wanted the Negasonic Teenage Warhead character — or, at least, a differently-powered character with that name — but Marvel owned it. Marvel agreed to it but on the condition that they get to use Ego, the Living Planet, (owned by Fox) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Thus, the deal was struck.

This is big, because it shows that these two studios, who don’t always get along, can negotiate agreements to trade/loan characters to each other. All it takes is a mutually beneficial trade, and (hopefully) everybody — including the fans — wins. I hope this is a sign of things to come, so that other beloved characters can show up cross-studios, as it were.

Item #6: Finally, speaking of Deadpool… You probably already know that a sequel is already in pre-production and scheduled for a March 2, 2018, release. (Of course, first they need to replace the now-departed director, Tim Miller.) It is rumored to co-star Rich Sands as Nathan Summers / Cable. But, the studio is so confident in the franchise that it has already greenlit Deadpool 3. This one is rumored to include some version of the mutant team known as X-Force. (No idea what this means for Jeff Wadlow’s planned X-Force movie. Could be a jumping off point, I suppose.) Could be great news for Deadpool and X-Force fans!

Fin.

Quick Reviews of “Extant” and “The Strain”

I was trying to figure out what to write about this week. I needed a break from fan-casting, so I decided to review another TV series… or two. I say “another”, but technically the only other series I’ve reviewed here up ’til now is “Star Trek Continues”, and that doesn’t air on TV (regular or cable). I will be reviewing the upcoming “Gotham” and “The Flash” series in separate posts in the next few weeks. But, for “Extant” and “The Strain”, I think I’ll keep my comments relatively brief, so I can cover both in one. I suppose I could have waited until both series were completed, but a) I’m a few weeks behind in viewing them and b) I have other things planned through the end of the year. It just made more sense to squeeze these reviews in now. So,…

Extant promo posterOn the night I publish this, “Extant” will air its 12th and penultimate episode, but I will have only watched through episode 8. I am enjoying the show but still wondering how it all fits together. Some threads are coming together, but others aren’t quite there. (For example, I’m wondering if Ethan will “go bad” or if the “offspring” will make some connection with “him”. And, what’s with this Odin guy and his little group? What is Femi Dodd’s agenda?) I guess that’s a good thing, that they keep us guessing and (hopefully) coming back for more. Gradual revelations and plot twists-n-turns will do that.

Halle Berry is pretty good in the lead role, and even when she isn’t doing anything particularly dramatic, she’s certainly easy on the eyes! (Sorry if that sounds mildly sexist, but you know the ladies enjoy watching a handsome, hunky guy like Goran Visnjic, too.) I’m still not sure about pairing Berry with Visnjic, though. I don’t have a problem with interracial couples. But, these two characters just don’t feel like a happily married couple. (Of course, her having been away for 13 months, plus the current events in their lives, would understandably have put a lot of unusual stress on their relationship.) Young Pierce Gagnon as “Ethan” is adorable — and potentially scary. Hiroyuki Sanada is good as Yasumoto, though the role is disturbingly similar to the one he just played in “Helix”. The rest of the casting is fine, too.

The tech seems pretty cool. Beyond the voice-controlled home security systems and self-driving cars, I mean, which are beginning to become available now in real-life. The prosthetics, robotics, and especially the A.I. is obviously waaaay beyond anything we’ll have anytime soon. Also, given how often they send up manned space missions, I’m guessing they’ve made several advances in that area, too. Btw, anybody catch how far in the future this is supposed to take place? I don’t remember hearing or seeing a year mentioned, but I’m guessing it has to be 40-50 years or more from now.

“The Strain” is a bit different. While I have only watched the first 5 episodes, so far, I already know how it’s going to turn out. Well,… sort of. I discovered and read the first book (that the show is based on) several months ago, so it’s fairly fresh in my mind. (Hazy on a few details, of course.) This is both a blessing and a curse. I enjoyed the novel by Del Toro and Hogan and was pleased to find out it was being adapted for television. However, as I feared, they have made so many changes — some understandable, some less so — that it is rather frustrating to watch.

The Strain promo posterOverall, the casting is fine. No major complaints there, though I would have preferred Jesse Rath as Gabriel Bolivar, and it’s too bad that John Hurt had to be replaced as Abraham Setrakian. Character-wise, I’m darn sure I remember Ephraim’s boss at the CDC being much older and not such a jerk in the novel. I also think the characters of Vasiliy Fet and Gus have been written to be much more, er, aggressive than they were originally. Why?

What bugs me most is the different pacing that the writers/producers took for TV. Several things have occurred or been revealed much sooner than they were in the book — for example, the medical examiner’s discoveries of new organs in the victims’ bodies (and what happened to him), Ephraim & Nora’s discoveries of the worms, the confrontation with Capt. Redfern (which originally only involved Ephraim, I think), the first view of The Master, the “reveal” of Jim’s involvement, etc. Speaking of The Master, that “appendage” of his is HUGE! In fact, all of the victims that have “turned” have them. In the book, the new organ grows in the throat but the thing that shoots out of the mouth is much smaller.

On the whole, I’m still enjoying the show, and I’ll watch it to the end, which I presume will take us through the end of the first novel. But, it just annoys me when so much has(?) to change when adapting a novel to the small- or large-screen. I know, I know. Some of it really is necessary to keep the different elements of the story moving for the TV audience. That’s why I’m “tolerating” it and not complaining (too much) when some characters and subplots are missing, merged, or otherwise modified or when the locations for where certain scenes occur are altered from the book. But, sometimes, it’s like they change things just to annoy me! :/