Thursday, November 20, 2014

The last refuge of the screenwriter

Brace yourself fellow nerds: HBO is going to adapt Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Does that news thrill and/or enrage you? No? Allow me to explain why it should, but first read this so you know what the hell I'm talking about. I'll wait. Huh? What's that? You don't have time to read three to seven novels? Fine, here's the wikipedia page, so you can get the gist.
Pictured: Isaac Asimov (center, between the muttonchops), wrote
some of science fiction's more important works, but he, unlike some
other sci-fi authors I could mention, was not a homophobic douche.
No, I mean the shitty one with
Mathew Broderick. Yeah, that one.
Anyway, the good news is that goddamn Roland Emmerich is apparently not involved. Emmerich had been threatening to ruin Foundation for years, but was waiting for someone to take Asimov's sprawling work about an elderly mathematician who saves the galaxy with the power of statistical analyses and somehow turn it into two and a half-hour screenplay about landmarks exploding. If it sounds like I'm being too hard on the guy, remember that this is the man that made Godzilla.

'So we open on a shot of fucking Trantor:
the capitol of the whole fucking galaxy.'
Instead, Jonah Nolan, the guy who wrote Interstellar and Memento will write and produce. Here's what he had to say about it:

"Well, I fucking love the 'Foundation' novels...That's a set of books where the influence they have is just fucking massive...there are some ideas in those that'll set your fucking hair on fire."

-Jonah Fucking Nolan

Above: The Nerd Belt®
Brilliant source material, competent, swear-happy screenwriter, what's there to worry about, right? Well, two words: I, Robot. Now, buckle-up them nerd belts, because I'm going to be getting super-geeky and more than a little tangential here. I'm bringing up I, Robot not because it was a bad movie but because it was a bad adaptation. While it was never intended to be a straight-up adaptation of any of Asimov's robot stories, it used the author's name, referenced a number of his stories and was pretty much presented as a movie based on his work.

Sure, nobody was trying to shit all over Asimov's book, it's just that his stories aren't exactly action-packed. Conversation-packed, logic-packed, even periodic table of elements-packed, but rarely action-packed. The producers wanted Will Smith spouting one-liners and shooting robots instead of standing around and discussing the Three Laws, so that's what we got.
"Welcome to Earth! Uh...which I suppose is where you come from as well.
Sorry, that one still needs some work, can we take that again?"
Pictured: A robot takes a hostage
in I, Robot, because nobody
ever read the goddamn book.
Yeah, the Three Laws. Asimov's robots were unique in science fiction because they were subject to the Laws of Robotics, the first of which was that a robot could never harm a human being. Ever. Like, that never happens in any of his stories, so when the robots in I, Robot turn evil and go on a killing spree, fans were understandably upset. It wasn't a plot twist, it a was bullshit cop-out, because the screenwriter couldn't come up with anything more interesting than "the robots eyes turn red, mayhem ensues."

'The incest practically writes itself!'
So what the hell does any of that have to do with Foundation? Well, HBO did an awesome job adapting Game of Thrones for television, but those novels were practically written in screenplay format to begin with. And it certainly doesn't hurt that every other chapter ends with either murder or screwing (or sometimes both). Most chapters in the Foundation books end with elected officials negotiating their way out of political crises. Yikes.

I'm sure HBO will throw some gratuitous violence or space nudity into the mix, but it may turn out that Foundation is un-filmable as written, leaving the Jonah Nolan with an unenviable choice between staying true to the original story and creating something people might actually want to sit through.
'Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.'
-Salvor Hardin in Foundation
but, uh, I'm sure he wasn't 
talking about HBO...

No comments:

Post a Comment