When I read that Roland Emmerich is to adapt Isaac Asimov's seminal science-ficton book "Foundation" my first reaction was one of glee. After all, with Fincher's Rama hitting the wall there was a lot to be depressed about when it came to seeing adaptations of the genre's classics on the big screen. But just how filmable and accessible is Foundation? And is Emmerich the man for the job?
I'm currently reading the first Foundation trilogy again after getting through only books one and two when I read them some fifteen years ago. The books were written in the late 1940's. Could Asimov's tales of humanity spanning millions of planets thousands of years in the future still be credible? Students of the genre no doubt agree that sci-fi that speaks of the future ends up giving away more about current thinking at the time it is written, rather than being particularly prophetic about what is to come. For example, look at how dated the futuristic sci-fi movies of the 1970's look now. Will those all-in-one suits really be fashionable in the future?
One thing has struck me between reading the book in 1995 and reading the book in 2010. The advent of the Internet has probably aged this story more than any other cultural development since the book was written. Asimov refers to "machines" rather than "computers" and "diplomatic packages" rather that "encrypted data transfer". For a story that relies so much on communication, information, chat and political out-manoeuvring, this forking of reality against Asimov's vision seems quite sizable.
Most of Foundation consists of different political figures sitting across tables from one another trying to be smarter than the other. Yes they talk of space battles but often only their outcomes. The real action takes place in the nuanced verbal sparring of these individuals as they try to bend vast resources and events to their will. Can this really transfer to the screen and still be exciting?
And hasn't a lot of it been copied already by one Mr George Lucas, who, with the second Star Wars trilogy (Parts I, II and III) created (or pilfered) the notion of a vast civilization spanning multiple systems, with it's own political system, royalty, pseudo-science and trade blocs etc. Isn't the city planet of Coruscant a complete copy of Asimov's Trantor.
With Foundation the movie, Roland Emmerich has the freedom to create a universe of a scale and scope not seen since Star Wars. And with the developments in cinematic technology he has more tools at his fingertips to create SIZE and SCALE, which are key when it comes to capturing the imagination of science fiction enthusiasts. I believe Emmerich is the best in the business at this. Look at Independence Day, a film that is now fourteen years old. Remember that shot of the orbiting satellite crashing into the alien mothership. That was a lesson in how to make something look unimaginably BIG on the screen. George Lucas is also good at this. James Cameron, not so much. In my opinion, visually Emmerich is the man for the job, and through his interviews on the subject I feel he has enough passion for the story to stay true to its flavour. I agree with his decision to merge the many many characters (most of which don't cross from one book in the trilogy to the next), into just a few key people. This one decision convinces me that an adaptation really could work.
We'll find out in 2011 when the film is released.