Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.
Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.
“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.
That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.
For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.
Lots of news has surfaced from China’s gaming industry in recent weeks as the government …
When showrunner David S. Goyer took on the monumental task of adapting Isaac Asimov’s hugely influential Foundation series of science fiction novels for Apple TV+, he knew it would not be a straightforward matter. As I’ve written previously, the author himself admitted that he wrote strictly for the printed page, and he always refused invitations to adapt his work for film or TV.
But Asimov was more than happy to let others adapt his work to a new medium, and he was wise enough to expect that there would—and should—be significant departures from the print version. In doing so, Goyer had to strike a balance between respecting Asimov’s sweeping visionary ideas without lapsing into slavish reverence and over-pontification. To my mind, he did it beautifully, producing more of a remix than a straight adaptation that is compelling and powerful in its own right.
Another challenge was figuring out how to incorporate science and technology that was reasonably accurate. An astrobiologist and planetary scientist at Jet Propulsion Lab, Kevin Hand had worked with Goyer years before on Krypton, and the two had stayed in touch. So when Goyer needed a scientist with expertise in space, interstellar travel, and planetary dynamics, among other topics, naturally he turned to Hand.
Ars sat down with Goyer and Hand to learn more about the journey to bring this classic work to television.
(Some spoilers for the Apple TV+ series below, but no major reveals.)
Ars Technica: It’s incredibly difficult to adapt this huge body of work for the screen, even in an extended format like streaming television, in part because the Foundation series is such a beloved classic work of science fiction. What did you see as the most daunting challenges?
David Goyer: The books have been revered for 70 years. A lot of people have a very personal connection to the books. Even if you aren’t a fan of science fiction, if you go into someone’s library or home office, the one piece of science fiction that you will see on any serious person’s bookshelf is Foundation. That’s a tremendous responsibility. But I also knew that if the show was going to work, it would have to appeal to people who’d never read the books—and hopefully to people who don’t even like science fiction.
When Asimov was writing the books, he was writing in a post World War II environment. He was using science fiction as allegory to talk about his contemporary world. That was 70 years ago. If we’re using an allegory, I have to reference post 9/11. I have to reference climate change, the rise of nationalism, the Me Too movement, all of these things. These are the things that are happening now.
I asked the Asimov estate if they were okay with that, and they said, yes, of course. Asimov himself recognize even before he died that certain liberties would have to be taken. These are books about ideas, about philosophy. I think people tune into streaming shows primarily for characters and emotion. They need to become invested in the fates of these characters. For me, that was the big challenge: how do I make it emotional?
I had to figure out ways of having characters embody his themes. So the question that I posed my writers and my actors, my directors, anytime we were going over a scene was, I know we’ve got spaceships and we’ve got robots and we’ve got nanotechnology and gene editing. But if we strip all of this away, does this story still work on a purely emotional contemporary level?
Take Dawn, the youngest Cleon. That’s a story about a teenager who doesn’t feel secure in his own skin. I think a lot of people can relate to that. It’s also a story about legacy and sacrifice and what we are willing to give up for future generations for our children. I don’t think I could have adapted this prior to being a father. I don’t think I thought that much about what the world was going to be like for my hypothetical children. But I think about that a lot now.
Kevin Hand: From a science standpoint, it’s not just the magnitude of concepts like psychohistory. One could imagine that conscious beings could eventually be treated like particles in a thermodynamic system so there might be some mass predictability. That is easy to sustain from a plot standpoint because that’s what Asimov did. But the rest of the Asimov stories are pretty choppy. The original books were not really books, they were stories—little vignettes set in different periods of the galactic fall and the rise of the Foundation. As great as the original Asimov books are, from a character standpoint, they’re relatively weak. David and his team had to figure out how to maintain character consistency, as well as consistency of scenes associate with those characters. And that means maintaining consistency in the planetary environments and establishing shots of the solar system, to give a sense of where you are as you can go through the galaxy.
So my role has largely been helping define and refine the solar systems and planets on which the characters act and on which the plots unfold. David loves thinking about different kinds of stars. Could we have a planet around a pulsar in this scenario, because a pulsar is just visually cool? But then we have to deal with the radiation environment that any organism would experience on that world. Do you want photosynthesis to happen on a planet? If so, you’re subscribing yourself to some variation of a G2 type star that allows yellow light to be the driving force for green plants to flourish. Certainly there might be plants that utilize other pigments on other worlds, but then you hit a practical constraint: if we’re filming in a jungle on Earth, you’re stuck with green.
We’re looking at a storyline that could go on for eight seasons. So you don’t want to make a decision that you’re going to regret later on. You don’t want to commit yourself to a planet that has certain characteristics, and then later on regret the choice of those characteristics. There’s a lot of thinking about the immediate need of science and planetary context for an episode. But also, is this a planet that’s going to be in the show for the long haul? Or is this just a one-off?
Ars Technica: The destruction of Trantor’s space elevator, the Starbridge, is a focal point of the pilot episode. What were the scientific considerations involved in staging that?
Kevin Hand: We had to think about the rotation of Trantor. What happens once you destabilize the top? Instead of just crashing down straight at the base, you’re wrapping around the planet. That much we know would certainly happen. Then you have to factor in the atmosphere and momentum. Would it spiral as opposed to just laying down flat? We played around with a few different scenarios. In the end, there is that scene of the Skybridge laying down like a long cord across the planet. That helped cut that chasm and set the stage for certain characters later going into that chasm and seeing the sub-levels of Trantor.
Ars Technica: David, you’ve said that you consider time to be a character in its own right in this series, because the books span thousands of years. Can you expound upon that?
David Goyer: In my first meeting with Apple, I said, I don’t think it’s possible to adapt this without taking time jumps. Sometimes we are going to jump forward a generation. Sometimes we’re going to jump forward 100 years. Sometimes we’re going to jump back 400 years. Sometimes we’re going to tell two stories that are not in parallel timelines. I need to know that you’re okay with that. If, you’re not, I don’t think we can do this show.
The tropes of science fiction allow us to explore time in ways that we couldn’t do in a contemporary drama. We can deal with a character going into cryo sleep and waking up 40 or 50 years later, we can deal with crazy concepts like time dilation, where time is relative. All of that is nerdy and technological, but it’s only interesting if it’s also emotional. Episode five is a major one for Gaal’s story. It very much plays with time in all sorts of different ways. The first season is largely narrated by Gaal. I’m interested in unreliable narrators. This isn’t just purely an omniscient narration. Gaal is telling the story from some distant point in the future and reflecting back on what we’ve seen. What is she editing out? What is she adding? Is it a subjective depiction of the events that are unfolding or is objective?
There’s a lot of power in history. What we choose to forget and what we choose to remember, what we choose to record in history is important because it changes our orientation to the past and to the future. Hari Seldon is using psychohistory to predict the broad movements of civilization. He can’t predict your individual lifeline, what you had for dinner, but he can predict the broad movements of humanity. Is he predicting a probable future or a definite future? And when you’re dealing with predicting the future, what does that mean in terms of our own human agency?
Ars Technica: Math also a character of sorts, and I especially loved how you portrayed the mathematics. It’s visually elegant and arresting, but also, in a way, emotional and human.
David Goyer: It’s funny because math was the one subject in school that I was terrible at. I had a mathematical block, even with a tutor. I got D’s. But I was always fascinated with math. I always wished in another life, I could have been a mathematician. I approached math in the show almost as if it were like communing with angels. I like this idea that Gaal and Harry are the only two people that can read the math. It’s impenetrable to everyone else. When we talk about the prime radiant and the depiction of math, I wanted the visual depiction of it to be beautiful and almost mystical. I didn’t want to have Roman numerals. We did a lot of concept art and visual effects tests for how the math would be portrayed.
Ars Technica: It’s always a challenge to determine just how accurate the science needs to be in a fictional series. Kevin, what was your basic philosophical approach as science advisor?
Kevin Hand: Our attitude was, let’s do our best to have a decent degree of fidelity to the science, but not lose sight of what’s going to be dramatically gratifying and serve the story well. As you well know, the science on screen does best when the stories and characters drive what you’re watching and the science is incorporated in a way that doesn’t jar you out of the story. If it’s bad science, then it’s just a laughable film, but if you’re overly subscribed to the science, then that breaks the viewer’s connection to the story also. The classic example is the attempt to retroactively explain the Force in Star Wars. You just didn’t need to go there scientifically.
For example, in the scene where a professor on Synnax is drowned, originally he was just tied to books. But books are not going to sink anybody, so you need to tie some rocks to those books. Also, you want the planets to appear majestic with moons and rings. But if you actually do the Kepler’s law analysis of how fast a world should be going at what distance, you end up with systems that are somewhat similar to the Earth and our moon. As big and beautiful as our moon is, it’s really not that big in our night sky. So if you want a dramatic establishing scene of rings and moons, you need a bit of Keplerian leniency as to where exactly you place the planet and how fast it goes. Just go with a nice visual and don’t worry about the rotation of moving around the planet.
The scene where Dawn jumps off the ledge is a good example of knowing when science can inform you about what not to show. In the original script, you see him slam down into the ground, but if he really had a protective force field, he would bounce. If you want to show the full fall, then you’re going to have to show this bounce. Or just show kind of the aftermath, which is exactly what they did. You see the initiation of the jump and then you see him just kind of suspended. That’s a beautiful way to incorporate science in a way that doesn’t actually show on the screen, but helps inform a scene.
Ars Technica: David, you’ve talked about how you saw so much more in them when you re-read the books in your forties, compared to reading them as a young man. That element is incorporated into the Cleons. Brothers Dawn, Day, and Dusk are genetically the same person, yet their outlook changes as they age. To me, this says something about the timelessness of Asimov’s series, and why they still resonate today.
David Goyer: The show is about the politicization of science. Three years ago, when I was adapting it, the pandemic was not on any of our minds. I would argue that Foundation is even more relevant now than when Asimov was writing about it 70 years ago. And it’s certainly more relevant now, three years later than when I started adapting it—almost eerily so.
My father first gave me the books when I was 13. He was a fan of science fiction and he said it was the greatest science fiction work ever created. We didn’t have a great relationship, so I didn’t even read it until I was in my mid-twenties. I was still youthful and impetuous. I’d been told this was an important work, but I found it dry and I didn’t get it. I picked it up again in my forties after I became a dad, when I wasn’t maybe so impetuous and was reflecting back on my life—reflecting back on cycles that I had followed.
I think Asimov was onto something, not just with Foundation, but in its approach to history. It’s that humanity and history are cyclical. It’s human nature when you’re young to want to discount everything that’s come before, to feel like you’re unique and that you’re just discovering the stars for the first time. And then it’s human nature as you get older to realize, in some ways you are unique, in some ways you’re not. There’s a beauty and wisdom in the past, and the people who have come before you, and you learn to embrace that. That’s the journey that I think we take as human beings, and that’s the journey that’s dramatized by Dawn, Day, and Dusk in the show. That was certainly my journey when I was introduced to Foundation.
All episodes of Foundation S1 are now streaming on Apple TV+.
Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, inspired numerous real-life attempts to navigate the globe, as well as various film, TV, and radio adaptations of varying success. The latest TV adaption by the BBC stars a perfectly cast David Tennant as the globe-trotting adventurer Phileas Fogg, and judging from the preview, it looks like a particular entertaining way to kick of the new year.
(Spoilers for the 1873 Jules Verne novel below.)
Fogg is the novel’s main protagonist, a gentleman of modest fortune who gets into an argument with his pals at the Reform Club over a newspaper article about the opening of a new railway section in India,. The article claims this makes it possible to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Fogg’s colleagues are skeptical, so he makes a wager that he can accomplish the feat. It’s a significant wager, too, amounting to half of Fogg’s fortune, with the other half required to finance his journey. If he doesn’t succeed, he will be ruined. Fogg takes his new valet, Passepartout, with him, departing London by train. Complicating matters is a Scotland Yard detective named Fix, who mistakes Fogg for a fugitive bank robber and tracks the pair throughout their travels.
Their means of transport include trains, steamers, paddle boats, ships, a wind-powered sledge, and even an elephant at one point. They rescue a young Indian woman named Aouda in Bombay, and overcome bison herds blocking a railroad track, Passepartout’s kidnapping by Sioux warriors, hurricane winds, and a fuel shortage as they make their way back to London.
Fogg initially thinks he has lost his wager—and his fortune—since Fix briefly arrests him once he’s back on British soil, before realizing the actual bank robber had been apprehended three days before. Then Fogg realizes that, in fact, they had lost a day during their travels, and makes it back to his club in the nick of time. He wins the bet (sharing the winnings with Passepartout and Fix) and marries Aouda.
Verne was fascinated by all the technological innovations of the late 19th century, especially the First Transcontinental Railroad in the US and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as well as the linking of Indian railways across the continent the following year. Global tourism was now a reality, at least for gentlemen of means. An Englishman named Thomas Cook was the first to complete an around-the-world trip over seven months in 1872, and a newspaper article about the feat may have influenced Verne. The author may also have drawn inspiration from the world trips of one George Francis Train, and Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “Three Sundays in a Week,” which also involves a lost day as a plot device.
Verne’s story, in turn, inspired the late 19th century journalist Nellie Bly to make her own world tour, completing the trip in 72 days. She even met Verne in Amiens, and wrote her own bestselling book about her adventures. Monty Python alum Michael Palin made the charming TV travelogue, Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin, in 1988, detailing his recreation of Fogg’s journey, without resorting to airplanes. There was a 1989 miniseries adaptation starring Pierce Brosnan, and a heavily anachronistic 2004 film starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, as Fogg and Passepartout, respectively. (The latter was a critical and box office failure, although it did garner a couple of Razzie Award nominations.)
In addition to Tennant, this new adaptation stars Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout and Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fix, a journalist (no doubt inspired by Bly). Shivani Ghai plays Aouda, and Peter Sullivan plays Fogg’s primary antagonist, Nyle Bellamy. Per the official synopsis: “Following an outrageous bet, Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, take on the legendary journey of circumnavigating the globe in just 80 days, swiftly joined by aspiring journalist Abigail Fix, who seizes the chance to report on this extraordinary story.”
The trailer opens with our intrepid trio taking a stagecoach ride across the Old West, which serves as the perfect mechanism for introducing them. We also see Fogg announce his ambitious goal of circumventing the globe in 80 days, drawing laughter from the stodgy men in his private club. “Some are born to adventure, and others frankly are not,” Bellamy tells him, clearly implying that Fogg is the latter. There’s some truth to that: Fogg is prone to seasickness, for starters, and when he gets a fly in his eye while walking through a field, he briefly panics, to Abigail’s exasperation.
Of course, we already know that Fogg will exceed all expectations on that score, rising to every occasion as necessary, despite his comfortable, sheltered life to date. Tennant is utterly charming here, striking the perfect balance of energetic curiosity, enthusiasm, and just enough fastidiousness to keep us chuckling. And there seems to be good chemistry among the three leads. We’re looking to this one. Let the adventure begin!
Around the World in 80 Days premieres on BBC1 in the UK and on Masterpiece PBS in the US on January 2, 2022.
Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books, and they’re bringing that knowledge to bear as they recap each episode of Amazon’s new WoT TV series. These recaps won’t cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. If you want to stay unspoiled and haven’t read the books, these recaps aren’t for you.
New episodes of The Wheel of Time will be posted to Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday.
Andrew: If I had to come up with a Friends-style episode title for this week’s Wheel of Time episode, it would be “The One With The Dragon Reborn Misdirects.”
I’m not sure how much screen time or effort I really want the show to devote to the Great Mystery Of Who The Dragon Reborn Is. Changing who it is would vault us out of “adaptation” territory and into the realm of fanfic, so at the end of the day, I don’t really think the series is going to change it on us. But I will say that, if I knew nothing at all about the book series going in, the show is at least making a reasonable case that any of our five Two Rivers-ians could be the Dragon. And at least so far, the show is managing to do that in a way that is consistent with what we know about each of these characters’ long arcs.
Lee: Oh yeah. I like the misdirection. We don’t have the luxury in the show of getting into each character’s head and knowing their internal landscape, so playing “Who’s the Dragon?!” is a good way of giving the audience something substantial to chew on beyond just dialogue and setting. Showrunner Rafe Judkins has said that the show is not changing who the Dragon is and that book fans will know immediately. But this gives folks who haven’t read the books a nice little mystery to ponder.
This episode gives us our first on-screen showing of what a male channeler’s madness looks and feels like, too. In the scenes where Logain is facing down the king of Ghealdan, we see that the weaves he channels are mixed together with blackness—the corruption of the Dark One. (The show also uses “corruption” over the book’s choice of “taint,” presumably to avoid all the memes that would come from having everyone saying “taint” all the time. Haha, taint.) Logain is beset by shadowy figures that seem to form themselves out the corruption, and they seductively whisper dark things to him, like, “Hey, you should totally kill that king guy.” It’s a neat effect, and I think it works great.
And I’m enjoying Logain’s… whatever the actor is doing. Sumptuousness? Weird presence? Whatever it is, Álvaro Morte is doing a great job of making Logain feel like the kind of bad guy who would definitely treat you to dinner plus a Bond villain monologue before murdering you.
Andrew: I am glad you mentioned the “taint” thing because if this adaptation keeps all the characters from talking and thinking about “the Dark One’s taint” all the time then I will be willing to forgive any and all other shortcomings.
The visual effect of the taint corruption on the One Power is probably my favorite visual effect in the series so far, strictly in terms of how economical and effective it is. You can still see the wisps of white, mixed in among the inky tendrils, but even before you see Logain’s madness manifest itself, it’s clear that something is wrong here.
That we’re meeting and talking to Logain at all is one of this episode’s two big departure points from the books—I believe we only spy him from a distance once in Eye of the World, and he doesn’t become a player in the story until a few books in.
We meet him because we’re inside an Aes Sedai encampment, which Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve have sought out so that Moiraine’s Trolloc-inflicted wound can be fully Healed. And the show uses this encampment to give us our first big dose of how Aes Sedai society is structured. We get a basic outline of the different Ajahs and their motivations, we hear about the Amyrlin Seat, we meet a few named characters from the books like Liandrin and Alanna. We physically move around a lot less in this episode, and the opportunity to take a breath makes the world-building and lore-dumping feel more organic and less forced.
I actually loved all the stuff with the Warders, since in the books you hear a lot about how they interact with each other but don’t actually get to see the kind of comradely backslapping that happens here.
Lee: Agreed, the Warder stuff was fun. This is a very different Lan from the one we see in the books—still stoic, but not flinty and unapproachable. He and Nynaeve manage to have an entire conversation about Lan’s fallen homeland of Malkier without either of them grunting or punching each other. I’m here for it—hell, I’m here for anything that makes Nynaeve less of the emotionally stunted bully desperately in need of therapy that she starts out as in the books.
Your comment about the Aes Sedai camp showing a bit of how Aes Sedai society works is dead on, and one of the most interesting bits is watching the Green sister in charge of the camp, Kerene (Clare Perkins) keeping Red sister Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) firmly in check. Book readers know that among the Aes Sedai, women who are stronger with the One Power are kind of automatically in authority over those with lesser power, and Kerene (who Moiraine says has turned back entire armies with her channeling) is firmly in command. For a while, at least.
We also see a bit about why False Dragons are so feared—and what happens to them. A major job of the Red Ajah is to hunt down False Dragons and “gentle” them (that is, permanently sever them from the One Power, so that they can never again channel). False Dragons that have great strength in the One Power tend to raise armies of followers and wreak massive destruction—as Logain has done with Ghealdan. The Reds have snagged him up in a cage, and they’re transporting him to the White Tower to be tried.