Mike Kueber's Blog

March 10, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies #15 – Pirates of Silicon Valley

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 6:36 pm
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Pirates of Silicon Valley was a made-for-TV movie in 1999 that depicted the roles of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the rise of the personal computer.  It was based on a book titled, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer.

Although the movie was produced at a time when Bill Gates had become the wealthiest man in the world and Steve Jobs had just returned to a diminished Apple after taking a lengthy sabbatical (with his greatest accomplishments still to come), Jobs is clearly the driving force of the movie (and the development of the personal computer).  By contrast, Gates is portrayed as a nerdy, unscrupulous dweeb, kind of like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.

An example of the unfair characterization occurs when Jobs steals (pirates) critical intellectual property from Xerox – the theft is depicted in the movie as resourceful David taking from dumb Goliath.  But when Gates subsequently steals the same property from Apple, the theft is treated as treachery by a scumbag.     

It is no surprise that Noah Wylie’s portrayal of Steve Jobs resulted in Jobs subsequently inviting him to appear at one of Apple’s annual conventions.  Wylie actually impersonated Job for a few minutes during his keynote speech until the audience was let in on the joke.  I don’t think Bill Gates will be inviting his actor, Anthony Michael Hall, to any Microsoft conventions.

I just finished reading the definitive Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, and the biography naturally is much deeper and more comprehensive in its treatment of Steve Jobs, but the essence of the person in the movie is the same.  A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing the book with someone who had only seen the movie, and I was struck by how similar our understanding of Steve Jobs was.  Now I know why.

So, if you want to understand who Steve Jobs was, and you don’t have time to read the book, you can feel assured that watching the movie will provide you with a sound understanding.


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