Sometimes when I’m done watching something and I’m just sitting down processing something, not yet ready to move on to my next task, my Apple TV goes into screensaver mode. There is a large library of great looking videos, most of them taken from a light or extreme setback: a camera following a pod of dolphins, drone footage of a bustling jetty or marina in California to Dubai, or one of my favorites, the rice fields in China. All of them, even those closest to the theme of water, share a sense of distance and abstraction, like seeing the world as a beautiful, high-definition pattern system separate from any narrative or character. They are Great screen savers – fascinating, visually rich, captivating while being functionally empty – and I’m sincere when I say I love them. I love them the same way I have, at various times in my life, loved Magic Eye posters, coloring books, things arranged in the order of the rainbow, and those full boxes. of blunt pins that you press your hand against and then flip over to see the three-dimensional image.
The experience of watching Foundation, the new big-budget sci-fi adaptation premiering today on Apple TV +, is pretty close to the frictionless fun of leaning back and leaving your Apple TV in screensaver mode. It’s breathtaking to watch, even gripping. It’s a colorful kaleidoscope of alien planets and jewel-toned costumes sliding rapidly from an era, a planet, to a totally different (but equally lavish) place. And yes, of course there is a story. There are characters. The “things” “happen”.
But Isaac Asimov’s original novel is generally described as “unfilmable” because it is primarily focused on individual action as a necessary, but not particularly interesting, conduit for the thing that it is. Actually cares about: social collapse and reconstruction. Foundation the series tries to resist that, to combat the structure of its source text by creating characters and almost defiantly immersing them in these beautiful galactic spaces. It is possible to watch Foundation for these characters, and for worrying about what happens to them: Lee Pace is the radiant Brother Day, one of the triumvirates of clone emperors who rule the enormous and immutable civilization; Jared Harris is Hari Seldon, a mathematician-revolutionary who predicted the fall of the empire. There’s a weird, young, genius-type aberrant character Gaal Dornick (played by Lou Llobell) and another resilient survival character from the outside world, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey). Dornick and the Clone Emperors are creations for the TV series, and both are attempts to incorporate direct protagonist / antagonist motivation into the story.
It works, a little. As the evil emperor, Lee Pace makes an excellent figurehead. He plays it so completely straight, just bubbling with cold fury in a clumsy bright blue chin-shield thing, and it’s not hard to buy Brother Day’s stern emptiness. Likewise, Jared Harris takes a look at the enigmatic sage visionary, and because he’s Jared Harris, no one will be surprised if things don’t go very well for Hari Seldon. In individual scenes, characters like Dornick and Hardin also work. In short, you find yourself in their motivations, the people they have a crush on, the goals they are striving for. Corn Foundation, by design, does not allow you to stay in these scenes for long. Stories travel through the decades too quickly. The characters are transported in stasis pods and hang around the ends of the universe, seemingly lost forever, until it inevitably turns out they’re doing just fine, in fact: How are you? And what has happened over the past 40 years?
As a result, not much on Foundation sticks, whether emotionally or narratively. There are cause and effect relationships between one event and another, but they span long, faded frames, distances short enough to roughly remember there was a relationship there, but too long so that this relationship can be maintained. any emergency or weight. There are a few instances where big twists or reunions have an exciting sense of development, but their rarity only shows how little you care about other things. Salvor Hardin has a love interest, for example, which Foundation insists on questions as a character, and that comes up more than once to give Hardin a little emotional punch. Never once does he make the slightest notch in the greatest field of gravity in history. I’ve watched all ten episodes of the season, and if you were to put this character in front of me on a lineup, there’s absolutely no way I could identify him for sure.
But as a screen saver? Like something you put in front of your eyes and watch go by, brilliantly colored and painstakingly rendered? You really can’t beat it. Fantastic Country book posters and covers have long been more romantic and artistic than what practical effects or CGI could really achieve. Give me a luscious, inexpensive sci-fi book cover with wild green mountains and three purple moons hanging low in the sky above the pretty austere things that tend to appear in all genre screen productions. days. Not Foundation, although. Each image lives up to the outrageous, otherworldly, large-scale sci-fi vision of the mid-century. There’s a mid-season twist that relies on a hunting scene in a lush alien jungle, and even though Foundation never having managed to make any of its characters particularly compelling, I would have been more than happy to spend time in this wild green place with its weird red lizard birds for hours.
Foundation, like that of Amazon Wheel of time and his the Lord of the Rings prequel, or like Apple’s other big sci-fi fall company Invasion, seems to be a transparent offer to capitalize on Game Of Thrones public. This series was the greatest thing on television; it has to follow that there is now a prime audience for other huge, muscular adaptations of classics in the genre with, I don’t know, spaceships or emperors or something like that. It’s hard to imagine Foundation living at this level of cultural inevitability, especially when I can’t even remember the name of Salvor Hardin’s boyfriend. Nonetheless, it clearly achieves what it appears to want to do the most: being a more attractive alternative to Apple TV’s free screensaver, or at least attractive enough to justify the cost of a subscription.