Aug 13

Steve Jobs as entertainment

Steve Jobs has been many things to many people.

But until I made it to the theater yesterday to see “Jobs,” I never really thought of him as entertainment.

I actually mean this in a positive way. Unless we’re talking about documentaries playing in art houses, movies aren’t expected to lay out the facts. They’re designed to keep us amused or engrossed for a couple of hours.

For me, this one did that.

Admittedly, I took my seat with a few biases and preconceptions — some of which hit me when the project was first announced. Lightweight actor. Director with short resume. Screenwriter with no resume. An absurd title (originally called “jOBS). And a horribly written website to boot. It all seemed amateurish, being rushed into production upon Steve’s death.

Several months ago, I got an early opinion from a former Apple executive who’d been invited to an advance screening. He was surprised that Ashton had done such a good job, even though he felt that the screenplay made Steve too one-dimensional. He pronounced the movie “fun and entertaining.”

My doubts about Ashton Kutcher further diminished when I watched some of his pre-release interviews. He not only resembles Steve, he has great reverence for Steve’s life and accomplishments.

I felt strangely nervous waiting for the movie to start. This would be the first time I’d ever seen a movie about a person or a company with whom I’d had personal experience. And when it was all over, I have to admit: I was entertained.

I’m not saying it’s a classic. The screenwriting felt weak at points. I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Best Picture nod. But if you’ve followed Steve’s story over the years, it’s interesting to see his decades-long journey compressed into a two-hour ride.

That compression, of course, is the movie’s biggest weakness. At many points, you feel like you’re watching a Cliff Notes version of Steve’s life. Important moments are either minimized or not mentioned at all.

The biggest hole for me was Steve’s time in exile. In the movie version, Steve is forced out of Apple, does a little tinkering in the garden, and then gets invited back into the fold. There’s only the slightest mention of NeXT, no mention of Pixar and no mention of Steve’s serious plan to “take Apple back.” But then, let’s remind ourselves: it’s a movie.

No doubt everyone who knew Steve will react differently. I thought Ashton did a good job of portraying Steve’s passion, vision, intensity and temper. He captured these things so well, there were times I felt like I was watching the real Steve.

One thing I would criticize: the Steve “walk.” Personally, I found it distracting.

When the real Steve walked onto a stage or into a room, people didn’t stop and think “Wow, that guy sure has a funny walk.” But they will when they see this movie. It may even be the thing people most remember about Ashton’s portrayal, simply because it’s so visually interruptive. Though Steve did have a similar walk, he made it seem natural. Ashton’s version seems almost cartoon-like.

Entertainment value aside, I’m happy that this movie shines a light on Steve’s journey. For 99.9% of the people in this world, Apple is just a company that makes cool devices, and was founded by a temperamental visionary. “Jobs” will at least let them know that there is a deeper, more human story here. It makes the point that Steve was “different,” and that his way of thinking led to one of the greatest successes in business history.

A couple of side notes:

I enjoyed the art direction of the movie — specifically the historical artifacts that were sprinkled throughout. In particular, I liked the ads that decorated the walls.

Some of those ads are clunky by today’s standards, but were an important part of Apple’s advertising past. Others have better withstood the test of time — like the “What’s on your PowerBook?” campaign. Shockingly, that work was created during Sculley’s reign as CEO. It was the work of creative directors Chris Wall and Susan Westre at BBDO, under the leadership of Steve Hayden. (Hayden, as many of you know, is the author of the famous “1984” commercial, which is also featured in the movie.)

Steve actually expressed his fondness for these ads, even though they were created without him.

Second, I enjoyed Steve’s now-famous read of Here’s to the crazy ones. In the movie, we see him in a modern recording studio, finishing his read with a quiet “Was that okay?”

Thank the gods for creative license. In truth, we recorded that bit in the Apple auditorium with a Steve Jobs who was way too busy that day and did not like the idea of being the voiceover. After recording a couple of versions, he would only say “That’s it — that’s all you’re getting out of me” — and then he bolted from the room.

Honestly, I can’t remember if he bounced on his way out.

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  • Junichi

    The movie may not be insanely great. But if Ken liked it, it should be awesome. Can’t wait to see the movie in Japan.

  • I just finished reading the part of your book where you describe getting Steve’s VO on tape. Funny that Hollywood.

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  • Saw it. Liked it. Will see again…. despite Ashton’s walk.

  • Jessica Darko

    Really would like to see an epic take on Steve’s life. There is so much there that happened… Hell, you could make a movie just about the time at Pixar and another just about the time at NeXT!

    In fact, I think this would make a great TV Series…. maybe do it as a fixed 3 year run (first season Apple, second season NeXT & Pixar, third Season Apple again.)

  • Gary Deezy

    I listen to the audiobook of Walter Isaacson’s biography to and from work each day. If you have a good imagination, it is about as close to that in-depth as you are going to get. It’s pretty awesome…

  • Donna Jessica

    I also thought that the movie was entertaining, and the “walk” was a bit overdone – in fact most people that saw it felt the same way. I did think of you when Steve (Ashton) insisted on returning only if he could work with “Chiat Day” (obviously you) and got a personal chuckle from his insistence on that requirement. But I appreciated Ashton’s passion for what Steve stood for, and his personal interest in portraying Steve as he closely as he could. Well done. Glad you agree.

  • Hugo928000

    And now Lenovo recruited Ashton Kutcher… Pretty Smart isn’it for the brand perception….It seems to be a good choice also when it comes to Celebrities endorsement..

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