Columbia Pictures has won rights to produce a film adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation science fiction trilogy, with Roland Emmerich attached to direct. Emmerich will produce along with Michael Wimer, who was also a producer (and thus, a complicit party) in Emmerich’s own 10,000 B.C. According to Variety, Sony-owned Columbia Pictures’ win came as a surprise, as WB and Fox were originally duking it out for this one, which now appears to be their lot in life. Through the fray, Columbia’s president, Matt Tolmach, apparently saw an opportunity to acquire the rights and went for it.

While many of Asimov’s books take place in the Foundation universe, the main Foundation storyline centers around a mathematician named Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian who is able to predict large-scale events using scientific principles. When Seldon foresees the downfall of the Galactic Empire, which will precipitate a dark age lasting 30,000 years, he establishes two human oases (“Foundations”) in an effort to preserve human knowledge. Asimov’s series was considered groundbreaking and won a Hugo award in 1966.

What to say about Roland Emmerich? I still remember back when the mosntrously successful ID4 came out in the summer of 1996. There was so much excitement around the blockbuster film that managed to combine massive city destruction with Will Smith kicking alien ass. But we also wanted to know what else Roland Emmerich had in store for us in the future. How would his directorial skill mature as time went on? How would his storytelling craft become more refined throughout the years? Clearly, Emmerich’s filmography has answered all of those questions. In short, his handling of science fiction has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the nose.

A better question: Aside from Wall-E (and I might argue, Sunshine and The Foutain), what was the last truly great science fiction film? Even Asimov’s own I, Robot and The Positronic Man (which eventually became Bicentennial Man) didn’t survive the adaptation from book to screen particularly well. We’ve yet to see Emmerich’s upcoming 2012 but I’d be willing to wager it won’t prove he’s ready to take on the themes and subtlety of Asimov’s work. But who knows: Maybe after all this time, Emmerich, as a filmmaker is finally ready to grow up.

[Update: Brendon Connelly and /Film reader Heftybag point out Serenity and Eternal Sunshines of the Spotless Mind as other great and recent sci-fi films. Good choices!]

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