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ASIMOV, ISAAC
(1920–1992).  American writer.

IMDB credits Having discussed the careers of Arthur C. CLARKE and Robert A. HEINLEIN this encyclopedia, I feel almost obliged to include Isaac Asimov as well, since he was the other member of science fiction's "Big Three" and he has remained prominent in the genre, with new editions of his classic works appearing all the time. Unlike Clarke and Heinlein, however, Asimov never evidenced any strong desire to write for film and television, although he accumulated some modest credits during the last decade of his life, suggesting the late emergence of a mild interest in making his mark in that field.

Still, one can readily summarize Asimov's active contributions to films in a single paragraph. Living in New York City in the early 1950s, where the television series Captain Video and the Video Rangers (1949-1955) was being filmed, he undoubtedly visited the set and accepted an invitation to script one episode, "I, Tobor" (1953), which now appears to be one of the series' innumerable lost episodes. In the 1970s, he was recruited to officially serve as a scientific advisor to the television series Salvage 1 (1979) and the film Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), though watching those productions, viewers are compelled to wonder just how much scientific advice he provided, and how much it was listened to. In 1988, he assisted two producers with little experience in science fiction in creating the short-lived series Probe (1988), also writing one episode, and he scripted the American adaptation of the French animated film Gandahar (1988).  Finally, he is credited as the co-author of the 1992 documentary Isaac Asimov's Visions of the Future, though one suspects that Asimov merely worked as its onscreen host.

Even though Asimov was long famous for his many science fiction stories and novels, cinematic adaptations of his works have seemingly been surprisingly infrequent—but perhaps there is a reason for this, rooted in the very nature of his ouevre . For one can accurately say that Heinlein's heroes typically did interesting things; Clarke's more passive protagonists typically observed interesting things; but Asimov's characters typically sit around and interminably talk about interesting things. This would explain why most Asimov adaptations appeared in the early days of television, when budgets for special effects were very low, and conversations were an effective way of filling the time. And it would explain why contemporary producers, with more resources available, have usually displayed more interest in adapting the works of Heinlein and Clarke.

Any survey of Asimov stories on the screen must be limited, because most of the television productions—like the 1964 Story Parade adaptation of his novel The Caves of Steel starring Peter CUSHING—are apparently lost. The best of the available lot is an understated 1977 short Canadian film based on his story "The Ugly Little Boy"; the worst of the lot include the disastrous 1988 film adaptation of Nightfall and Robin WILLIAMS's thumb-fisted effort to bring The Bicentennial Man (1996) to life. The most successful film associated with Asimov, I, Robot (2004), was actually planned independently, and at a relatively late stage the producers bought the rights to Asimov's story collection, providing them with an attractive title, the use of the Three Laws of Robotics, and the names of a few characters. But as I noted while reviewing the film, this Will SMITH action movie is otherwise entirely unrelated to any story that Asimov ever wrote.

Contemplating Asimov's future in film, one notes first that there were once plans to call the I, Robot sequel The Caves of Steel, and perhaps even employ its plot, but the current working title of this endlessly delayed production—I, Robot 2—suggests that we will someday see another film based primarily on an Asimov title. An HBO adaptation of Asimov's Foundation novels was also announced, though when this might actually materialize remains a mystery. One might conclude that filmmakers enjoy talking about making Asimov movies, but rarely get around to actually making them. And Isaac Asimov would have been able to relate to that.

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