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The Definitive Movie About Steve Jobs Already Exists

At some point soon, and maybe it will already have happened by the time you read this, the movie Jobs will be in theaters. Ashton Kutcher, probably best known for sort of acting in "That '70s Show," hosting a not-unfunny prank show called "Punk'd" on MTV and horsing around on Twitter (ugh), has borne the awesome responsibility of playing the iGod himself, the late Steve Jobs. You know this, of course. But stick with me here, please.

I'm sure ol' Ashton is just fine in that role, no matter how much criticism he's bound to get from Apple sycophants and snooty, ivory-tower film mavens alike. (Seriously, who's more annoying than an old-school, print-publication "film" reviewer? More annoying than the people who never call them movies, only "films"? These people are at a Ph.D.-in-English-Lit level of annoying, and other than crabby blogger, there is no level higher than that.) Seriously, though, I'm sure Ashton does OK. But it doesn't matter. It's only a movie. And it's not the movie, anyway.

Anything with the names "Jobs" or "Apple" attached to it is bound to gather the faithful, the skeptical, the curious and the awestruck. That's a lot of people, ultimately. The iEra vaulted the departed genius into the highest stratosphere of positive public opinion (way up there, in the Frank Sinatra or John Wayne range -- wow, I really need some cultural references from this century), and rightly so. Who doesn't love the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and all the device-alikes they've spawned over the last decade or so? Did Steve Jobs not change our lives? Of course, he did. So, he's more than worthy of a biopic. It's just that the best one, maybe the only one necessary, has already been made.

Back in the '90s, impossibly long ago, I was working as a reporter at PCWeek (remember?), pretending to have some idea of what 40,000 CEOs of ".com" startups were talking about when they came to meet with me. ("Um, so, it's a turnkey, end-to-end, robust, plug-and-play, Internet-based e-commerce supply chain business process management platform solution for the Central American radish-growing industry? Oh, it will be when you actually launch the three years. No, believe it or not, that's the fourth one of those I've seen this week. Yeah, big market potential, magic quadrant, integrates with SAP, lots of customer references you can't mention...sure, thanks, got it.") 

Anyway, a fellow reporter, Margaret Kane, was a bit of a Hollywood buff and managed to convince some cable network (one of the Turner operations, I believe) that she was a movie reviewer for that well-known scion of popular culture, PCWeek. In doing so, she scored us a pre-release version of a movie that would air a few months down the road. Thus did those of us in PCWeek's Medford, Mass., newsroom become among the first people in the world to view Pirates of Silicon Valley, which was, and is (nearly 500 words into this) the definitive Steve Jobs movie.

Oh, let me respond to your skepticism. Yes, it's a movie about Jobs and Bill Gates and how they battled in the '70s and '80s. So, it's not just about Jobs. Yes, it stars Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall, two guys who would fuse their heads together and live as conjoined twins to have even half the career Ashton Kutcher has had. And it was made for TV. Basic cable TV. In the '90s. Fair enough. But you know what? Wyle and AMH (is he famous enough that we can do that?) were good! And the movie was good! And apparently available to watch on YouTube for $2, but here's a trailer:

More importantly, in case you haven't heard this before, listen to what Steve Wozniak, who obviously knew Jobs as well as anybody, said about Pirates: "The entire movie was truthful. Every incident in the movie actually occurred. Every incident in the movie had the meaning that was portrayed in the movie." OK, there were some problems with the timeline, Woz tells us, but read (or listen to) that again. Everything in the movie actually occurred. It's real.

Now, let's see what the imminently likeable Woz has to say about Jobs, the new film. Here's a sampler: "I saw Jobs tonight. I thought the acting throughout was good. I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie. One friend who is in the movie said he didn't want to watch fiction so he wasn't interested in seeing it...I was turned off by the Jobs script...I felt bad for many people I know well who were portrayed wrongly in their interactions with Jobs and the company."

Now, we know that Woz was or is working on a different Apple movie. The linked article from Gizmodo mentions that. He mentions it. But Woz has -- and it would be hard to find anybody who would disagree -- a sterling reputation as a good, honest man. (Is he really so worried about money that he would bash a "competing" movie? Aside from the fact that he didn't actually bash it.) I believe what he says. And he says Pirates is real and Jobs isn't, not really.

Here's the other problem some folks might have with Pirates. Given that it was made in the late-'90s, it ends with Apple at its nadir, with Microsoft making both the most famous and forgotten investment in business history with the bailout of Apple. (Remember, Apple would very likely not exist without Bill Gates. Intentions and reasons aside, that's just true.) What about the iEra, then? What about the genius Jobs, the creator, the evangelist, the master marketer, the guy with the turtlenecks and the salt-and-pepper beard?

We know him. (And, oddly enough, the new Jobs movie apparently ends with that iEra rather than fully including it.) We know the man who beat back cancer long enough to change the world. We know the iCon. We know the 21st-century Jobs. But Steve Jobs was, as anybody would be, much more than what he was in his final years. He was a sum of his life's experiences, just like the rest of us. And the beauty of Pirates is that it actually captures Jobs while he was rising and as he fell. It captures the Jobs we didn't know back then. Nobody knew in 1999 what Jobs would become, what Apple would become. There's no reverence in Pirates. There's no over-the-top meanness, either, forced into the movie to make Jobs seem more human, or maybe just more mean.

There's just a pretty darn good portrayal -- not 100 percent accurate because no movie is, but still pretty good -- of a man before he became an iCon, before he was a true household name, before every person in America immediately recognized his company's logo. There's a portrait of Jobs we'll never see again because the final years of his life have defined him in the popular imagination -- and not necessarily unfairly, but he was so much more than that. That's what Pirates gives us. And it's real.

I have a 2-year-old and a 1-month-old, so I won't be seeing Jobs in the theater. I'll probably catch it on Netflix in a year or something. In the meantime, though, I think I might go ahead and spend that $2 and watch Pirates of Silicon Valley again on YouTube. It's the only Steve Jobs movie I need.

Posted by Lee Pender on August 21, 2013