Saturday, August 17, 2013

Don't Bother Me While I Think Different

Reel To Reel: Jobs

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Moderate language, some brief drug use

I still remember when my Royal Father brought home one of the first-generation Macintoshes in the summer of 1984. The Mac's sleek and meager footprint replaced a gargantuan Sanyo MBC-3000 that hogged the computer desk. Back then, I didn't think of it as the beginning of a revolution. Other systems, including IBM clones, had a few Mac-like software packages culled from the system's dreadfully expensive big sister Lisa. The original Mac cost $2,495, a pretty sizable chunk of change to take a leap into a new, untested frontier of personal computing.

And for Apple's Steve Jobs, personal computing meant personal, but only he understood it. That's what Jobs wants us to remember in this Cliffs Notes biopic that focuses on Jobs' ambition to build great machines while leaving out the other dimensions of his life. Ashton Kutcher is a dead ringer for Jobs, appearance wise. Yet he fails to help us understand Jobs on a deeper level, often times leaving the titular character hovering in a state between mad genius and maddening jerk.

The picture opens with a greying Jobs announcing the now-iconic iPod before quickly flashing back to his long-haired, drug-infused barefoot college days. Did Jobs think better because he dropped LSD? I think not, but we see young Steve in a whirlwind spiritual journey that plays out like an acid trip. Then there's the "now, what" moment. After a life-changing experience in India, we don't really follow why Jobs would want to come back home and team up with people to program computer software.

Jobs ends up at Atari, where he alienates himself from his staff, only to get his own project, and get bailed out by uber-geek Steve Wozniak (Gad). Woz has the chips, but Jobs has the hard drive. As Apple fanboys know by heart, the two started the company in Jobs' garage after failing to convince companies like Hewlett-Packard why anybody would want a personal computer. Ah, but the computer is a creative device, Jobs is trying to make people understand. It's not the system, it's what you can do with it. We follow Jobs as he builds Apple only to be thrown out of it as his creative vision doesn't jibe with stockholders' vision. Note to self: when I build a company, never take it public.

So many other aspects of Jobs' life and career are either glossed over or ignored, mainly his strained relationships with family, including daughter Lisa (who inspired the name of Apple's innovative Spruce Goose machine). This makes it harder for us to understand his maniacal, almost religious, demands for loyalty and vision. We hardly see his feud with Microsoft's Bill Gates, which he later patched up, nor do we see much of what made him decide to create the iPod or the iPad.

Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography is the better choice for anybody who wants to understand the real Steve Jobs, or what drove him. It wasn't about the inner geek or the acid trips -- that's for sure.

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