Perhaps one of the most revered science fiction epics looks to be coming to the big screen, as Variety reported that Columbia has won the rights to Issac Asimov’s Foundation, and has tapped Roland Emmerich to direct. The film will be produced by Emmerich and Michael Wimer, his partner at his Centropolis production house.
The story of Foundation dates back to 1942, where a series of eight short stories by the master appeared. Asimov later developed the stories into a trilogy of novels (which collected and expanded upon the original stories): Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, published in 1951, 1952 and 1953, respectively. Asimov returned to the world in 1982 with Foundation’s Edge, and Foundation and Earth in 1983, and then wrote two prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation in 1988 and 1993, respectively. Asimov later expanded the novels to connect to his other works, creating a coherent timeline from I, Robot to Foundation and Earth.
The original novels are the science fiction equivalent of Lord of the Rings in the eyes of many fans and genre scholars, and were based by Asimov on Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and, as Asimov admitted, pitched on the spur of the moment to legendary editor John W. Campbell.
According to Variety, the deal with Columbia and Emmerich owes something to the recent legal battle and animosity between Fox and Warner Bros. over Watchmen – the property was originally developed by Fox, and then moved to New Line, and then to Unique Pictures (made up of former heads of New Line) at Warner Bros. Given the chain of studios, Fox would have to be compensated for its development costs by Warner Bros., if the studio were to make the film. Rather than pay Fox, Warner Bros. allowed the rights on the film to lapse, thinking then, according to Variety, that it would quietly pick up the option again, this time with a clear chain of rights that left Fox out of the picture.
When it became known that the option for Foundation was once again up for grabs, Warner Bros. found itself in the midst of an auction involving many studios. WB sought to place the property at Unique Pictures with Alex Proyas directing, which pitted it against a newly re-interested (and then fighting WB on the Watchmen front) in Foundation Fox, which also placed a bid, but Columbia, seeing it as a project for Emmerich, won the auction.
There was no word on how many films Columbia/Emmerich hopes to make in the Foundation universe, although a trilogy would be the most likely outcome. That said, given that Asimov did link Foundation to virtually his entire library…Emmerich’s Stargate did spawn television series that continue today, fourteen years after the film’s 1994 premiere, so that’s a tantalizing plus. On the minus side…Emmerich has often been criticized for putting spectacle over story, and Foundation is, if anything, one of Asimov’s more cerebral works.