Nov 15

Bidding adieu to Steve Jobs, the movie

Uh oh. Two weeks into its general release, Universal’s Steve Jobs movie has faded fast.

In what might be the ultimate insult, it has only barely outperformed the Ashton Kutcher Jobs movie.

Quite an unexpected end for a movie that had everything going for it: writing, acting, directing, marketing budget and lots of great reviews in the mainstream media.

Where did things go wrong?

Well, as much as we admire Steve Jobs, his vision and his accomplishments, there is such a thing as a Steve Jobs overdose.

The Social Network came along at a time when hundreds of millions of people were hooked on Facebook, but few had a clue who Zuckerberg was or how his company started. There was some intrigue there.

Four years after Steve’s death, his story has been analyzed and overanalyzed in a never-ending stream of books, movies and articles.

No amount of advertising and hype can ignite interest in a topic people have already been beaten over the head with.

Sorkin certainly gave it his best shot. Rather than reheat the story we’d already been served, he focused on Steve’s emotional journey.

Through his interviews with key players, Sorkin told Steve’s story via his changing relationships with a number of people over the course of three product launches: Macintosh, the NeXT Computer and iMac.

It was this construction that forced him to bend reality as he did — sometimes in absurd, unbelievable ways. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that in the end, this was yet another look at Steve Jobs.

Generally, reactions to this film fall into two categories: “Great movie” or “That’s not the Steve I knew.”

Despite what some are saying, the two are not mutually incompatible. Steve Jobs is absolutely entertaining as a movie, but no, it does not depict the real Steve Jobs. At least not completely. There are parts of Fassbender’s performance that do ring true — the power of Steve’s personality and his ability to dominate a room.

As I said in a previous article, the only way to get a true picture of Steve is by doing your research. The truth is spread throughout all the information that currently exists.

Personally, I find it hard to fault a Hollywood movie for being inaccurate. This is entertainment, and not a historical document.

There is at least some logic to the argument that some people don’t have the ability to separate fact from fiction, and their image of Steve might be tarnished as a result.

But if you’re of that mind, you can take solace in the fact that with few lining up to see the movie, there isn’t a lot of tarnishing going on.

Before the movie disappears completely, I have a just a few observations about the world Sorkin has created.

Steve’s personality

Though Sorkin has infinitely more talent than the first-timer tapped to write the Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs movie, both make a similar mistake. Yes, Steve could be intense and brutal, but this was only part of his personality. He was equally charismatic, inspirational, challenging … and had a great sense of humor as well. Different people experienced Steve in different ways, but there is one thing we can all agree on — Steve Jobs did not talk Sorkin-style.

John Sculley

This is the part that dropped my jaw. In real life, Steve saw Sculley as the villain in his story. He avoided Sculley like the plague after being forced out of Apple in 1985. The idea of him popping up again in Steve’s life, almost as a father figure, is light years beyond absurd — especially at the NeXT launch, which came relatively soon after Sculley had driven Steve from Apple.

If this kind of character was essential to the story, others could have filled it nicely. One notable nominee would be Regis McKenna, who was the leader of Steve’s original ad agency — a man Steve really did stay in touch with, regarding him to be “a wise man of marketing.”

The case of the stolen interface

I was surprised that the movie would perpetuate this myth. It’s unimaginable that Woz would be the one to accuse Steve of stealing the Mac interface — even in anger — since he was well familiar with the details of how the original Lisa and Macintosh computers were developed.

The choice of characters

Like many, I was shocked to see that the recurring characters in Steve’s professional life included Woz, Sculley, Hoffman and Hertzfeld. In reality, those people had no real presence or influence after the Macintosh intro. These were also the people Sorkin interviewed for background before writing the script. They must have told one heck of a story.

The backstage environment

I love that for each of the three product launches, the backstage area was elaborately decorated, complete with ad posters mounted on the walls. Uh … right. From venue to venue, backstage was just backstage. Not a lot of homemaking going on there.

The NeXT conspiracy

In the movie, Steve admits prior to the launch of the NeXT Computer that the product is flawed, and that his plan is to sell the company to Apple so he can take control of Apple once again. Given Steve’s personal investment in NeXT, and the effort he put into NeXT and Pixar over the span of eleven years, this is about as absurd as absurd gets. Even a tech visionary couldn’t see that far into the future. There’s a fine line between “creative license” and “you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Thinking different

Okay, now I’m getting really picky. In the iMac segment, we clearly see an on-stage screen displaying the Apple logo with the words Think Different. This is an outrage! Apple never spelled it that way. It was always Think different. Lower-case d. This isn’t the kind of change a production team makes for filmic reasons — it’s just a detail gone unnoticed. Not exactly Jobs-level perfection.

Other changes, of course, were done deliberately. In the NeXT segment, we see an ad on the wall with the headline The cure for the common computer. This was a real NeXT ad, but was re-designed for the movie so it better matched the one next to it.

Does this damage Steve’s legacy?

Oh please. It’s a movie. It’s only the latest of many negative depictions of Steve, including documentaries that claim to deliver solid facts.

Steve’s legacy is pretty much written in stone at this point. Somehow I think it can withstand the temporary effect of a Hollywood interpretation.

Ordinary citizens have only a general awareness of Steve’s life, personal or professional. Something along the lines of “a brutal leader who invented some world-changing technology.”

What will their perception be after they see Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs? “A brutal leader who invented some world-changing technology, and had some fatherhood issues.”

My recommendation: look at the movie as entertainment. That’s exactly what it is.

Trust me, Steve’s legacy is a bit bigger than one dud of a movie.



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  • fud

    typo? “Steve Jobs is absolutely entertaining as a movie, but no, it does NOT depict the real Steve Jobs.” ?

  • bdkennedy

    Having gone into Apple-related blog forums for years and reading thousands of comments, I can tell you exactly why it bombed.

    1. Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs. It doesn’t matter how good of an actor he is.

    2. Steve Jobs’ family and friends didn’t want the movie made because it’s not an accurate portrayal.

    3. “I’ll watch it on Netflix”.

    4. The propaganda surrounding the movie’s launch of how absolutely stunning and wonderful it is. Many people’s bull**it detectors went off.

  • hannahjs

    So, do you suppose a diminished box office will chill the initial Oscar buzz? And if not, and the actors are nominated and win, will the film enjoy a boffo re-release? Odder things have happened.

  • Paul Rubin

    The movie bombed because the vast majority of people who care know the 2000’s era Jobs and this movie ignores that. People think iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, cancer, huge stock run ups. The Jobs in this movie is a different guy.

  • N

    Good analysis as always. I don’t think the movie flopped because of Steve Jobs fatigue. I think people want a hagiography. Remember how we all felt when he died? We don’t care about his personal life. We want a feel good movie about Apple from iMac to iPhone to iPad. We will probably need to wait until all the folks from this era can talk freely.

  • Gary Pageau

    I think “Sorkin-fatique” plays into it, as well. I, for one, am tired of his crap.

  • Geoff Otterman

    Had the movie been called “The Devil Wears Turtlenecks” and the names changed this movie would have been fine. By calling it Steve Jobs and then not being a biopic is what has ruined it.