I’ve always been a bit of a geek. I grew up on computers and with the desire to know how to make them work for me. I went to school to get a better understanding of computers and networking, and I’m currently working with computers. My brand of computing, however, has always been under the Microsoft banner. I’m a PC and I will probably always be a PC. I’ve never really been fond of Macs, but that doesn’t mean I can deny how much of an impact Steve Jobs and the garage band he started had on the world.
I went out to see the film Jobs and felt it appropriate to do more than just review the film, but discuss the impact that home computing and the people who ushered it in had on the world. When home computing was just a crazy idea, some young radical thinkers saw the future – a future where the world is connected and everybody has a personal computer. A future we call the present.
Being that the movie is the foundation of this article, it’d make sense to discuss that before going into the nerdy history of modern computing. Jobs details the history of Apple Computer from its humble beginning out of a garage to its industry leading position as a home computing powerhouse. Centered on the players who birthed the industry on Apple’s side, namely Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the film details, as best a two hour film can, how Apple came to be a computing powerhouse before nearly going under and its rise back up to the position it now holds.
The film is done well enough. Characters are pretty fully fleshed out with Steve Wozniac being an easy favorite; a man who was in it just for the passion of doing the impossible and putting computers in the hands of everybody. Josh Gad does a great job in the role by really portraying the passion he has for technology and what his vision of the future is. There’s usually a shining moment whenever he’s on screen and it’s easy for the audience to get caught up in his excitement for ushering in a new era even though that time, in the real world, has already come and gone.
The real triumph of Jobs, though, is Ashton Kutcher. I was skeptical when I heard Kelso from That ‘70s Show was going to be filling the role of one of the kings of the modern era, but that skepticism was entirely unfounded. Ashton Kutcher was an unexpected choice for the role, but he so manages to capture the spirit of Steve Jobs that it’s almost uncanny. The way he carries himself, his hand gestures, his facial twitches, and even his speech patterns are a near perfect emulation of the late Steve Jobs and it’s truly impressive. He puts an effort into the role that displays a passion I haven’t seen in a biopic – let alone any film – in quite some time. I was thoroughly impressed by the performance and Ashton Kutcher deserves every bit of praise for his presentation of Steve Jobs’ character.
The soundtrack is another shining point of the film with period-appropriate rock pieces perfectly complimenting plot progression. Being a bit of a nerd, it was easy for me to get a little excited when a group of guys looking toward the future were putting together circuitry for the Apple I with some Joe Walsh playing in the background. I can’t think of a moment in the film when a music selection felt out of place.
The film plays, expectedly, in chronological order and does a good enough job getting the main details out there. It skips or skims over some important things, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Some of the nitty gritty details aren’t the priority of the film, instead it tries to successfully tell the tale of the man who built Apple. Steve Jobs was a complex man – one who can be summed up with a wide variety of adjectives: a visionary, an innovator, a genius… an asshole – a highly flawed man who unquestionably used people to build an empire. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t an easy person to get along with – which was, honestly, a shock to me given the marketing surrounding the film.
It’s an enjoyable biopic and one that is definitely worth watching, especially for those of us who appreciate technology or have a fascination with its history. Like the man it’s about, it is flawed, but it’s well constructed and moving. Even though I’m not a Mac head, I appreciate what Jobs and Wozniak did for the modern world and it was fun seeing a dramatization of the events surrounding home computing’s early days.
It was, however, some of those minor details that kept me from loving this film entirely. I’m well aware of the fact that Steve Jobs has gone on record to say that Bill Gates was not innovative lacked creativity, something that actually comes up in the film in the one scene that introduces Windows 1.0. What the film manages to omit, however, is the Xerox Alto. Not to take away from the accomplishments of Steve Jobs, but the operating system that redefined the world of home computing – the operating system that helped found an empire – was built from someone else’s genius. At this point in time, it’s pretty much ancient history, but just a decade or so ago there was still chatter going on about how Microsoft stole Windows from Apple. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) was Apple’s invention and Microsoft was the big bad who stole it – obviously since they have the largest market share of PC operating systems, they have to be evil. Well, what about the Alto?
Apple’s first PC to be released with a GUI was the Lisa back in 1983 – the Macintosh followed a year later. Over a decade before the release of the Macintosh to the public, Xerox introduced the Xerox Alto – a computer system with a GUI. While not a consumer system, the Alto undoubtedly laid the foundation for modern computing with its innovative interface – and Steve Jobs saw potential in the GUI when he was introduced to it by Xerox in 1979. Xerox obviously didn’t realize the potential of what they had as they basically gave the head of Apple the keys to the future showing him all the ins and outs of the system. The foundation for Macintosh and its beloved OS was laid on the innovative, forward thinking ideas of the team behind the Alto. It’s just, to me, ironic that Steve Jobs famously called out Bill Gates for his lack of originality when his groundbreaking system was undeniably built on a stolen idea.
Again this isn’t trying to detract from the man’s accomplishments. The film just glosses over some important events and it’s easily misleading. The one scene with Windows in it only works because the audience, especially those who are ignorant to the history of home computing, because the film presents the creation of Lisa OS as an entirely original idea birthed by Steve Jobs. It wants you to believe that the GUI was exclusively an Apple idea and that Bill Gates and Microsoft were thieves by building a visual shell for their already existing DOS. The scene where Steve Jobs damns Bill Gates over the phone works because the film decides to omit the part where Microsoft saved Apple from going under in ’97 by purchasing 150,000 non-voting shares. The film doesn’t attempt to villainize Bill Gates of Microsoft, but it tries to emphasize that they weren’t interested in innovation.
The film also fails to give a satisfactory transition from Steve Jobs being booted from Apple to his return. It’s somewhat understandable as, especially to the non-geeky viewers, the film can feel long – and at two hours it actually kinda is. However, it would have been great to see more than just a snip in a montage about NeXT. It probably would have caused the film to drag if they threw in more footage than it already has, but maybe trimming some fat from the first two acts could have made room for NeXT. It feels like a missing opportunity to see where the foundation to the modern era of Macintosh was built.
Flaws and all, Jobs was a well-made film with some great performances, a lot of energy, and an excellent soundtrack. Macs and PCs alike should give this film a shot. It’s not as groundbreaking as the man it’s about, but it was well worth the price of admission.
Jobs: 3.5 out of 5