Monday, August 19, 2013

Jobs [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChiTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. Ryan) review

To be honest, I'm generally wary of "Great Leader" films:  

On one hand they can be absurdly adulatory ("The Great Leader/Innovator is/was just Godlike in his Awesomeness.")  The "arrival scenes" of (1) HITLER IN NUREMBERG in  Leni Riefenstahl's [IMDb] infamous Nazi-Era "documentary" Triumph of the Will [1935] and of (2) STALIN IN BERLIN in Mikheil Chiaureli's [IMDb] infamous (and utterly fictionalized) Stalin-era propaganda film The Fall of Berlin [1950] (Stalin played by the poor sop Mikheil Gelovani [IMDb], talk about having an awful gig ...) truly set the bar for what is horribly possible.

On the other hand these films can be hatchet jobs ("The Great Leader/Innovator is/was actually a Real Dick...") made by people who obviously hated said "Great Leader"/"Innovator" for any number of reasons or agendas.  Here one thinks of the recent film Hyde Park on Hudson [2011] reducing the venerable FDR (The New Deal / leading the US in World War II) to a pervert or even The Social Network [2010] which presented Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a creep who arguably created Facebook to cyber-stalk a (fictionalized or even invented) ex-girlfriend.  

Finally, there's the third way, admitting: "Okay, the Great Leader/Innovator may have been a Dick but look at what he/she also accomplished..."

I'd put the current film Jobs [2013] (directed by Joshua Michael Stern, screenplay by Matt Whiteley) about Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs (IMHO played admirably in the current film by Ashton Kutcher) in the third category as Jobs both in the film (and apparently in real life) was BOTH a "Great Visionary" and often "a Dick." 

Job's dickishness was repeatedly presented during the course of the film from (1) breaking-up with his live-in girl friend when she got pregnant and REFUSING FOR YEARS to acknowledge that her child Lisa WAS HIS even as he actually named an Apple computer project ("Lisa") that he was working-on at the very same time after her, to (2) his cutting-out of three buddies who he had quickly hired to help solder 500 "Apple 1" circuit boards for him and fellow Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak (played again admirably in the film by Josh Gad) as they, still working out of Steve Jobs' dad's garage, struggled to complete their very first order (to a SF Bay electronics hobby shop) back in 1977.  At the time of Apple Computer's IPO, Jobs declared that he could have hired "any three electricians with a soldering iron" to help solder those first 500 circuit boards.  That may be true, but most of us would still be appalled as those three  were his friends at the time and without them he and Wozniak never would have gotten that first order done in time (and perhaps there never would have been an Apple Computers afterwards).

Yet the film, which focused on Steve Jobs' / Apple Computer's (now Apple, Inc) pre-iPod years, did show Job's arguably rare capacity to integrate technology, aesthetics and business acumen.   He was portrayed as someone who was someone who not only understood technology (if not as well as perhaps Steve Wozniak) but also understood that this technology had to "look good" / "look cool" for it to get out of the hands of the "geeks" and into those of regular / other creative people.  Finally, he was portrayed as one who could defend himself in the sphere of business.  Yes, he was forced out by the business folks at Apple Computers for some years following the below expectations launch of the Macintosh.  However, after a number of years in exile (during which he founded a moderately successful software firm named NEXT) he did make his way back to Apple and turned it in the arguably "post PC" direction that it finds itself today.  Again, Jobs appeared (both in the movie and in real life) as interested in "more" than "just computers."  As important to him appeared to be aesthetics: how the computers/technology products looked and what one could do with them.

Still his focus on aesthetics was portrayed in the film (IMHO accurately) as also a drawback: A cool-looking and very capable gizmo is almost always going to cost more than a more "boxy" less capable one.  The result has been what pretty much all of us know: Apple products are ALWAYS expensive, enough to put themselves out of reach of most potential buyers.  Still Jobs appears to have been most interested in "setting the bar" or at least "setting the trend."

The viewer of the film is ultimately left to decide whether Jobs was (1) a genius, or (2) a flawed genius (that he was often a jerk when dealing with others, and that he always kept Apple products too expensive for most people to buy).

However what frustrates me the most about the film is that it leads viewers to choose only between those two options.  I would suggest that with the exception of his rather interesting preoccupation with aesthetics (IMHO something rather rare in the world of techies) that Jobs may not have been "a genius" at all.

Perhaps Jobs'/Wozniak's creation of "the first PC" (the Apple II) was a stroke of genius even though almost immediately afterwards arrived the rival Commodore 64 (which as always with Apple's innovative products, was soon beating Apple in sales. Why? Surprise, the Commodore was cheaper).  A similar thing could be said of the iPod.  Was it a stroke of genius or was it basically historical inevitability?  If Jobs/Apple had not come up with it, would someone else have?  And given how fast cheaper (and often more capable) knock-offs of Apple products have been brought to market, one could argue that if Jobs/Apple had not come-up with these products then perhaps any of hundreds of other engineering shops, big and small, would have come-up with them anyway.

BUT ;-) ... Jobs/Apple WERE the FIRST to come-up with the Personal Computer, FIRST to come-up with a commonly available MP3 player, FIRST to attach a cell-phone to the MP3 player and FIRST to make the "smart phone" into a Tablet.  That's a lot of FIRSTS ;-)

So perhaps Jobs really was a genius (and not just lucky/ruthless) after all ;-).  All in all, this is a good film and IMHO a better one than most of the critics would give it credit for.  Still I do think that Jobs was often a jerk ;-)


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