Gene Expression

Chris Orr at The Plank reports that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is going to be given the film treatment. Orr is skeptical, and so am I. As far as space opera goes the Foundation universe was a cerebral and sedate treatment; they’ll have to rewrite a lot of it to get some action to spice up the story. David Brin’s Uplift based novels read much more like the outlines of scripts; but after The Postman they probably won’t want to risk that. Even if there’s a lot going on space opera doesn’t always translate well. Remember David Lynch’s take on Dune? Because of the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy I suppose the film industry will go on this turn-novel-series-into-film-series kick for a while. I think after the disappointment of The Golden Compass one has to admit that Jackson ended up making good films, and you can’t just assume that the “based on” formula is going to make an endeavor a success.


  1. #1 John Hawks
    July 30, 2008

    *cough* I, Robot *cough*

  2. #2 PalMD
    July 30, 2008

    OK, i’ve read the real foundation books several times, and I can’t for the life of me see how a movie would be of any interest whatsoever.

  3. #3 Dylab
    July 30, 2008

    I could see how it could work… They should have one near the begining of the foundation where it develops the concept of psycohistory and Hari Sheldon and then have a sequel where everything those concepts get messed up.

  4. #4 Orac
    July 30, 2008

    *cough* I, Robot *cough*

    Actually, I kind of liked the movie. Yes, it was a terrible adaptation of Asimov, but if I just forgot about the books and short stories and looked at the movie on its own as a movie not having much to do with Asimov, I have to admit that it was a rollicking good time.

  5. #5 razib
    July 30, 2008

    Yes, it was a terrible adaptation of Asimov

    i think that’s an important point. to make this movie work they’ll have to really tear up asimov’s original narrative. the key is to make a good movie + get some suckers to show up because it has the name “asimov” associated with it to generate the profit.

  6. #6 Patrick
    July 30, 2008

    A couple of observations:

    Sometimes books that are supposed to be unfilmable surprise – I’m thinking of Naked Lunch. By making a mashup(before the term had been invented)of the *ahem* novel and Burrough’s biography, Cronenberg ended up with something that worked.

    And Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner – they complimented each other despite being only cursorily related and reaching completely opposite conclusions.

    All that said – Yeah, I’m still skeptical on Foundation.

  7. #7 Winter Toad
    July 30, 2008

    One note about “I, Robot”. The script wasn’t based on the short story collection by Asimov. The script was written first. The studio applied their rights to use the title of the short story collection. Then they tossed in a bit of three-laws stuff, but in the end the story was not inspired by, or derived from, Asimov’s stories.

  8. #8 John Hawks
    July 30, 2008

    but in the end the story was not inspired by, or derived from, Asimov’s stories.

    Which is really too bad, because some of the robot stories would seem to have a lot of movie potential. For instance, The Robots of Dawn might be cool with a Minority Report-like vibe.

    Heck, considering the robotic qualities of one of this year’s presidential candidates, even the last story in the I, Robot collection might fly…

  9. #9 John Hawks
    July 30, 2008

    Ooh — I wouldn’t give up on Foundation, though. You know how Lawrence Olivier showed up at the end of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as a disembodied film clip? I could totally imagine the Hari Seldon scenes done that way.

  10. #10 R E G
    July 30, 2008

    Hollywood seems to believe SciFi fans are only interested in special effects and not stories. SciFi is about ideas, not big explosions. If they hire a competent scriptwriter BEFORE Industrial Light & Magic there will still be hope. The writing on most big budget films is pathetic. I could do better, and I can barely write a letter.

  11. #11 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 31, 2008

    There’s lots of filmable action in those short stories. The background framework (psychohistory etc.) can be revealed in flashbacks when needed. Please remember that Asimov didn’t write Foundation books until late in his life. The original stuff is made of of short stories. There is a Big Story floating in the background, but it doesn’t intervene with the action.

    I can see how Hollywood could spin that to an allegory of religion with Hari Seldon as The Prophet. Yuck.

  12. #12 Woody Tanaka
    July 31, 2008

    “Hollywood seems to believe SciFi fans are only interested in special effects and not stories. SciFi is about ideas, not big explosions. If they hire a competent scriptwriter BEFORE Industrial Light & Magic there will still be hope.”

    Well, SciFi might be about ideas, but film is primarily about visual images. Those SciFi works that can be told visually might make good movies; those that can’t, won’t. Which is why space operas or something like Alien or Terminator works in film, but much of SciFi doesn’t work in film even when it works on paper. (Cf., e.g., “Nineteen Eighty-Four” the book, and “1984”, the film.)

    If you have to have someone sit and explain a lot of it, forget it. It won’t work in film. (And if you want to rely on flashbacks or voice over, just do the world a favor and open your window and throw the 15 million or whatever you’re going to spend on the film, out into the breeze.)

    (Interestingly, because television is a more dialogue/language based medium, SciFi can play better there, because two people talking can be arresting television, even if it is dead film.)

    I think what can happen is if enough people are familiar with the source material, you can have a good film that simply takes for granted that the audience knows what the ideas are that you are exploring so they don’t need explaining. However, someone without that background will not get much out of the film.

    For example, having no interest in reading Tolkien’s books, I found all of the “Lord of the Rings” movies to be plodding and episodic and, at times, rather pointless, but with stunning visuals. I enjoyed them, as the visual spectacles that they were, but I wouldn’t once say that they were “great” films. Many people who had read the books feel differently, I believe, because they were mentally able to “fill the gaps” which existed in the film narrative, with what they already knew from reading the books, etc.

    As for Foundation, I believe that the ideas which propel the story are not things which can be conveyed visually, and require too much expository dialogue, which will doom the project to failure.

  13. #13 Nemo
    August 8, 2008

    The worst part is that people will see this and think that Trantor is a rip-off of Coruscant.

    I don’t hold much hope for a movie based on Foundation, but I think “Pebble in the Sky” could make a decent movie.

  14. #14 wazza
    August 8, 2008

    The Caves of Steel might do well…

    but for my money, the best books to make films from are the ones that are more action than ideas. The slightly pulpy ones that take interesting concepts and then throw in a bucketload of explosives. I’d love to see the Night’s Dawn trilogy filmed. Any film with a reanimated Al Capone as a sympathetic villain 500 years in the future *has* to do well.

  15. #15 BAllanJ
    August 8, 2008

    “For example, having no interest in reading Tolkien’s books, I found all of the “Lord of the Rings” movies to be plodding and episodic”
    Well….how could someone make a faithful movie about the LotR that wasn’t?

    *ducks and runs for cover*

    WRT the post… I agree that they should leave the Foundation books alone. Not movie material so what’s the point. Try another author from the era maybe… Some of Larry Niven’s would probably work. I don’t know why they’re fixated on rewriting Azimov…. not like the movie-going teen has read his stuff.

  16. #16 G Felis
    August 8, 2008

    Side issue: Do you really think The Postman’s epic suck would have any impact on making a Startide Rising film, if someone were serioulsy considering it? I know that Hollywood types are a bit clueless, but surely anyone with half a brain (apparently not including Kevin Costner) should be able to tell by reading the books that The Postman is a pretty crappy novel to begin with, whereas all of the Uplift books are superb (esp. the original two, Startide Rising and The Uplift War).

    Oh. Right. Never mind. Most Hollywood executives can’t be bothered to read the novels they base films on. *sigh*

  17. #17 Kaleberg
    August 8, 2008

    The original Foundation trilogy would not make a good movie, but it could make a good television series. The pacing and scale are wrong for a movie. The first book started out as a series of short stories, and the latter two books consisted of two novellas each. You’d be hard pressed to get proper continuity to sustain a movie length feature. On the other hand, if you made it into a series, the story components would turn into story arcs within the overall framework. In fact, it actually might be fun to do it this way.

  18. #18 Thomas Fortenberry
    August 10, 2008

    As usual, to make this a Hollywood blockbuster, they will have to throw out Asimov’s actual storyline and add a lot of exploding CGI FX. I, Robot is the perfect example, since all it retained of Asimov’s concept was the title.

    If they actually tried Asimov’s story, it would move with the fast-paced action of Dr. Zhivago, only eons slower. The only cerebral SF movie was 2001 and most people still complain about the lack of Terminators and Arnold Schwartzeneggar in it.

    I imagine this will end up somewhere between Independence Day and Star Wars, only with less plot and worse acting.

    PS: I agree, the Brin Uplift books would make an awesome space opera saga. Wish someone would do those right.

  19. #19 Gene Lawrence
    August 23, 2008

    Perhaps in the future Robots will look back upon these comments….

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