Get a First Glimpse of Foundation, the New TV Series Being Adapted from Isaac Asimov’s Iconic Series of Novels

Five years ago we told you about the plans to create a mini-series out of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi series Foundation, while also pointing you in the direction of the 1973 BBC radio dramatization. Back in 2015, Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, was attached and HBO was set to produce. And then we all forgot about it. (Well I did, anyway.)

Fast forward into the COVID tsunami of this week and AppleTV just dropped the first trailer for the series. Nolan is out and David Goyer is in as showrunner. Goyer loves his pulp, and wrote or co-wrote the Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City, and a lot of the recent DC Universe films. Also on board as executive producer is Robyn Asimov, Isaac’s daughter.




Production had started in Ireland on the series, but it closed up shop in March due to COVID-19. We have no idea how much of the 10-episode first season was shot, which might explain a preponderance of footage in the above trailer of people walking down corridors, walking into rooms, and staring out of windows, along with purely CGI establishing shots of spaceships and a black hole straight out of Interstellar.

On the other hand, we get a glimpse of Jared Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) as Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has developed a theory called “psychohistory” that allows him to see the future. And he does not like what he sees--empires collapsing, and a long dark age of 30,000 years. There’s also his protege called Gaal, played here by newcomer Lou Llobell; Lee Pace (Halt and Catch Fire) plays Brother Day, the emperor; and Leah Harvey plays Salvor, the warden of Terminus, where Seldon and Gaal are exiled. (Spoiler alert...we think.)

Two large questions to ask right now: will this ever get finished? And do we really need Foundation, or has its time passed?

For the first, AppleTV has put a date of 2021 for the hopeful premiere, but all the arts are on hold now. We might be looking at films that are even more CGI than they are now, shot totally on greenscreen in large socially distant studios, and assembled by a gigantic crew of remote animators. (Ireland is down to less than 10 cases of COVID-19 per day, so who knows.)

The second is more a matter of taste and a case of who’s adapting the books. Goyer’s filmography shows he’s much more of an action guy, and Asimov was more of an intellectual. We might see something between the international trade tariff skullduggery of The Phantom Menace and some Game of Thrones court intrigue.

The discussion on Metafilter certainly deserves a look, as it brings up issues like Asimov’s history of sexual harassment, the idea of Grand Old White Men of Sci-Fi, and a need to keep prestige television churning out product. And, of course, there’s a discussion of how much we might need some of Asimov’s optimism.

Asimov’s Foundation series was influenced by Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and we are certainly thinking about empires falling right now, especially as we can hear Nero’s fiddle off in the distance, getting louder every day.

Related Content:

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future of Civilization–and Recommends Ways to Ensure That It Survives (1978)

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Witty, Erudite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

Isaac Asimov Laments the “Cult of Ignorance” in the United States: A Short, Scathing Essay from 1980

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

This Is What The Matrix Looks Like Without CGI: A Special Effects Breakdown

Those of us who saw the The Matrix in the theater felt we were witness to the beginning of a new era of cinematically and philosophically ambitious action movies. Whether that era delivered on its promise — and indeed, whether The Matrix's own sequels delivered on the franchise's promise — remains a matter of debate. More than twenty years later, the film's black-leather-and-sunglasses aesthetic may date it, but its visual effects somehow don't. The Fame Focus video above takes a close look at two examples of how the creators of The Matrix combined traditional, "practical" techniques with then-state-of-the-art digital technology in a way that kept the result from going as stale as, in the movies, "state-of-the-art digital technology" usually has a way of guaranteeing.

By now we've all seen revealed the mechanics of "bullet time," an effect that astonished The Matrix's early audiences by seeming nearly to freeze time for dramatic camera movements (and to make visible the eponymous projectiles, of which the film included a great many). They lined up a bunch of still cameras along a predetermined path, then had each of the cameras take a shot, one-by-one, in the span of a split second.




But as we see in the video, getting convincing results out of such a groundbreaking process — which required smoothing out the unsteady "footage" captured by the individual cameras and perfectly aligning it with a computer-generated background modeled on a real-life setting, among other tasks — must have been even more difficult than inventing the process itself. The manual labor that went into The Matrix series' high-tech veneer comes across even more in the behind-the-scenes video below:

In the third installment, 2003's The Matrix Revolutions, Keanu Reeves' Neo and Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith duke it out in the pouring rain as what seem like hundreds of clones of Smith look on. Viewers today may assume Weaving was filmed and then copy-pasted over and over again, but in fact these shots involve no digital effects to speak of. The team actually built 150 realistic dummies of Weaving as Smith, all operated by 80 human extras themselves wearing intricately detailed silicon-rubber Smith masks. The logistics of such a one-off endeavor sound painfully complex, but the physicality of the sequence speaks for itself. With the next Matrix film, the first since Revolutions, due out next year, fans must be hoping the ideas of the Platonically techno-dystopian story the Wachowskis started telling in 1999 will be properly continued, and in a way that makes full use of recent advances in digital effects. But those of us who appreciate the enduring power of traditional effects should hope the film's makers are also getting their hands dirty.

Related Content:

The Philosophy of The Matrix: From Plato and Descartes, to Eastern Philosophy

The Matrix: What Went Into The Mix

Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality”

Daniel Dennett and Cornel West Decode the Philosophy of The Matrix

Why 1999 Was the Year of Dystopian Office Movies: What The Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty, Office Space & Being John Malkovich Shared in Common

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Original Star Wars Trilogy Adapted into a 14-Hour Radio Drama by NPR (1981-1996)

When it opened in 1977, Star Wars revived the old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure film. Within a few years, National Public Radio made a bet that it could do the same for the radio drama. Though still well within living memory, the "golden age of radio" in America had ended decades earlier, and with it the shows that once filled the airwaves with stories of every kind. Radio dramas seemed extinct, but then, before George Lucas' space opera turned blockbuster, so had movie serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The episodic nature of such source material resonated with the similarly episodic nature of classic radio drama, and that must have brought within the realm of possibility a bold and near-scandalous proposition: to re-make Star Wars for NPR.

The idea came from a student at the University of California, who suggested it to USC School of the Performing arts dean and radio-drama enthusiast Richard Toscan. There could have been no institution better-placed to take on such a project. Since Toscan had already produced dramas on the school's NPR-affiliated radio station KUSC, he made an ideal collaborator in the network's effort to breathe new life into its dramatic programming.




And as Lucas' alma mater, USC inspired in him a certain generosity: Lucas sold KUSC Star Wars' radio rights, along with use of the film's music and sound effects, for one dollar. Founded just a decade earlier, NPR still lacked the experience and resources to handle such an ambitious project itself, and so entered into a co-production deal with the BBC, which had never let radio drama go into eclipse.




When the Star Wars radio drama was first broadcast in the spring of 1981, fans of the movie would have heard a mixture of the familiar (including the voices of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO) and the unfamiliar. With science-fiction novelist Brian Daley brought on to add or restore scenes to the script of the original dialogue-light feature film, the story stretches out to thirteen episodes for a total runtime of six hours. The series thus stands as an early example of the expansion of the Star Wars universe that, in all kinds of media, has continued apace ever since. An Empire Strikes Back radio drama followed in 1983, with Return of the Jedi following, after prolonged development challenges, in 1996.

You can hear all fourteen hours of these original Star Wars trilogy radio dramas at the Internet Archive (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi), or on a Youtube playlist with fan edits combining the originally discrete episodes into continuous listening experiences. NPR's gamble on adapting a Hollywood hit paid off: the first Star Wars radio drama drew 750,000 new listeners, many from the youthful demographic the network had hoped to capture. It was the biggest science-fiction event on American radio since Orson Welles scared the country with his adaptation of H.G. Welles' The War of the Worlds more than 40 years earlier — a broadcast produced by John Houseman, who in his capacity as USC's artistic directory in the 1970s, encouraged Toscan to bring radio drama back. In recent years, NPR's audience has continued to age while the Star Wars franchise has in theaters, on television and elsewhere, gone from strength to strength. Has the time come for radio to use the Force once again?

Related Content:

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

30 Hours of Doctor Who Audio Dramas Now Free to Stream Online

Hear Five JG Ballard Stories Presented as Radio Dramas

Dimension X: The 1950s SciFi Radio Show That Dramatized Stories by Asimov, Bradbury, Vonnegut & More

The Complete Star Wars “Filmumentary”: A 6-Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Documentary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Commentary

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hyperland: The “Fantasy Documentary” in Which Douglas Adams and Doctor Who‘s Tom Baker Imagine the World Wide Web (1990)

Thirty years ago, the internet we use today would have looked like science fiction. Now as then, we spend a great deal of time staring at streams of video, but the high-tech 21st century has endowed us with the ability to customize those streams as never before. No longer do we have to settle for traditional television and the tyranny of "what's on"; we can follow our curiosity wherever it leads through vast, ever-expanding realms of image, sound, and text. No less a science-fiction writer than Douglas Adams dreams of just such realms in Hyperland, a 1990 BBC "fantasy documentary" that opens to find him fast asleep amid the mindless sound and fury spouted unceasingly by his television set — so unceasingly, in fact, that it keeps on spouting even when Adams gets up and tosses it into a junkyard.

Amid the scrap heaps Adams meets a ghost of technology's future: his "agent," a digital figure played by Doctor Who star Tom Baker. "I have the honor to provide instant access to every piece of information stored digitally anywhere in the world," says Baker's Virgil to Adams' Dante. "Any picture or film, any sound, any book, any statistic, any fact — any connection between anything you care to think of."




Adams' fans know how much the notion must have appealed to him, unexpected connections between disparate aspects of reality being a running theme in his fiction. It became especially prominent in the Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency Series, whose wide range of references includes Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan — one of the many pieces of information Adams has his agent pull up in Hyperland.

Adams' journey along this proto-Information Superhighway also includes stops at Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Picasso's Guernica, and Kurt Vonnegut's theory of the shape of all stories. Such a pathway will feel familiar to anyone who regularly goes down "rabbit holes" on the internet today, a pursuit — or perhaps compulsion — enabled by hypertext. Already that term sounds old fashioned, but at the dawn of the 1990s actively following "links" from one piece of information, so common now as to require no introduction or explanation, struck many as a mind-bending novelty. Thus the program's segments on the history of the relevant technologies, beginning with U.S. government scientist Vannevar Bush and the theoretical "Memex" system he came up with at the end of World War II — and first described in an Atlantic Monthly article you can, thanks to hypertext, easily read right now.

Though to an extent required to stand for the contemporary viewer, Adams was hardly a technological neophyte. An ardent early adopter, he purchased the very first Apple Macintosh computer ever sold in Europe. "I happen to know you've written interactive fiction yourself," says Baker, referring to the adventure games Adams designed for Infocom, one of them based on his beloved Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels. Though Adams' considerable tech savvy makes all this look amusingly prescient, he couldn't have known just then how connected everyone and everything was about to become. "While Douglas was creating Hyperland," says his official web site, "a student at CERN in Switzerland was working on a little hypertext project he called the World Wide Web." And despite his early death, the man who dreamed of an electronic "guidebook" containing and connecting all the knowledge in the universe lived long enough to see that such a thing would one day become a reality.

Related Content:

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Douglas Adams in 1984

In 1999, David Bowie Predicts the Good and Bad of the Internet: “We’re on the Cusp of Something Exhilarating and Terrifying”

John Turturro Introduces America to the World Wide Web in 1999: Watch A Beginner’s Guide To The Internet

Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Ballard Predicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Internet & PC in 1974

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Star Trek: World-Building Over Generations—Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #42

The world-wide Tribble infestation and Star Trek: Picard dropping make this an apt time to address our most philosophical sci-fi franchise. 44 years of thought experiments (with photon torpedoes!) about what it is to be human should have taught us something, and Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer along with Drew Jackson (Erica's husband) reflect on what makes a Star Trek story, world building over generations in Gene Roddenberry's land, canon you don't remember vs. something that just hasn't been shown on screen, Trek vs. Wars, and step-children like The Orville and Galaxy Quest.

We have gathered a heap of articles for further cogitation:

For some suggested episodes to catch up on, there are lists online recommending those from the original series and from the franchise overall. There are also fan creations like these original series episodes, a Star Trek musical, and of course the Improvised Star Trek podcast. For some relevant words from Rod Roddenberry, check out episode 55 of the Mission Log podcast.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

Jules Verne’s Most Famous Books Were Part of a 54-Volume Masterpiece, Featuring 4,000 Illustrations: See Them Online

Not many readers of the 21st century seek out the work of popular writers of the 19th century, but when they do, they often seek out the work of Jules Verne. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days: fair to say that we all know the titles of these fantastical French tales from the 1860s and 70s, and more than a few of us have actually read them. But how many of us know that they all belong to a single series, the 54-volume Voyages Extraordinaires, that Verne published from 1863 until the end of his life? Verne described the project's goal to an interviewer thus: "to conclude in story form my whole survey of the world’s surface and the heavens."

Verne intended to educate, but at the same time to entertain and even artistically impress: "My object has been to depict the earth, and not the earth alone, but the universe," he said. "And I have tried at the same time to realize a very high ideal of beauty of style." This he accomplished with great success in a time and place without even what we would now consider a fully literate public.




As philosopher Marc Soriano writes of the 1860s when Verne began publishing, "The drive for literacy in France has been underway since the Guizot Law of 1833, but there is still much to do. Any well-advised editor must aid his readers who have not yet achieved a good reading proficiency."

Hence the need for illustrations: beautiful illustrations, scientifically and narratively faithful illustrations, and above all a great many illustrations: over 4,000 of them, by the count of Arthur B. Evans in his essay on the series' artists, "an average of 60+ illustrations per novel, one for every 6-8 pages of text." Still today, "most modern French reprints of the Voyages Extraordinaires continue to feature their original illustrations — recapturing the 'feel' of Verne’s socio-historical milieu and evoking that sense of faraway exoticism and futuristic awe which the original readers once experienced from these texts. And yet, to date, the bulk of Vernian criticism has virtually ignored the crucial role played by these illustrations in Verne’s oeuvre."

Evans identifies four different types of illustrations in the series: "renderings of the protagonists of the story — e.g., portraits like the one of Impey Barbicane in De la terre à la lune"; "panoramic and postcard-like" views of the "exotic locales, unusual sights, and flora and fauna which the heroes encounter during their journey, like the one from Vingt mille lieues sous les mers depicting divers walking on the ocean floor"; "documentational" illustrations like "the map of the Polar regions (hand-drawn by Verne himself) for his 1864 novel Les Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras"; and portayals of "a specific moment of action in the narrative—e.g., the one from Voyage au centre de la terre where Prof. Lidenbrock, Axel, and Hans are suddenly caught in a lightning storm on a subterranean ocean."

Verne and his editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel commissioned these illustrations from no fewer than eight artists, a group including Edouard Riou, Alphonse de Neuville, Emile-Antoine Bayard (previously featured here on Open Culture), and Léon Benett — all well-known artists in late 19th-century France, and made even more so by their work in the Voyages Extraordinaires. You can browse a complete gallery of the series' original illustrations here, and if you like, enrich the experience with this extensive essay by Terry Harpold on "reading" these images in context.

Together with the stories themselves, on the back of which Verne remains the most translated science-fiction author of all time, they allow Harpold to make the credible claim that "the textual-graphic domain constituted by these objects is unmatched in its breadth and variety; no other corpus associated with a single author is comparable." Human knowledge of the universe has widened and deepened since Verne's day, but for sheer intellectual and adventurous wonder about what that universe might contain, has any writer, from any era or land, outdone him since?

Related Content:

Émile-Antoine Bayard’s Vivid Illustrations of Jules Verne’s Around the Moon: The First Serious Works of Space Art (1870)

Jules Verne Accurately Predicts What the 20th Century Will Look Like in His Lost Novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863)

How French Artists in 1899 Envisioned Life in the Year 2000: Drawing the Future

Hear Rick Wakeman’s Musical Adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, “One of Prog Rock’s Crowning Achievements”

Petite Planète: Discover Chris Marker’s Influential 1950s Travel Photobook Series

The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers: From the Fantastical 1920s to the Psychedelic 1960s & Beyond

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

42 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner, Alien, Star Trek and Doctor Who Will Help You Relax & Sleep

Back in 2009, the musician who goes by the name "Cheesy Nirvosa" began experimenting with ambient music, before eventually launching a YouTube channel where he "composes longform space and scifi ambience." Or what he otherwise calls "ambient geek sleep aids." Click on the video above, and you can get lulled to sleep listening to the ambient droning sound--get ready Blade Runner fans!-- heard in Rich Deckard's apartment. It runs a good continuous 12 hours.

You're more a Star Trek fan? Ok, try nodding off to the idling engine noise of a ship featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mr. Nirvosa cleaned up a sample from the show and then looped it for 24 hours. That makes for one long sleep.

Or how about 12 hours of ambient engine noise generated by the USCSS Nostromo in Alien?

Finally, and perhaps my favorite, Cheesy created a 12 hour clip of the ambient sounds made by the Tardis, the time machine made famous by the British sci-fi TV show, Doctor Who. But watch out. You might wake up living in a different time and place.

For lots more ambient sci-fi sounds (Star Wars, The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica, etc. ) check out this super long playlist here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2017.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

10 Hours of Ambient Arctic Sounds Will Help You Relax, Meditate, Study & Sleep

Moby Lets You Download 4 Hours of Ambient Music to Help You Sleep, Meditate, Do Yoga & Not Panic

Music That Helps You Sleep: Minimalist Composer Max Richter, Pop Phenom Ed Sheeran & Your Favorites

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Quantcast