Review of Pirates of Silicon Valley Movie

Submitted by Patrick on Sun, 10/29/2006 - 10:34pm.

Written By: Patrick Grote
Date: July 17, 2003 (Previously published)
Section: Viewpoints

You knew that one day the computer gods would have their own film. TNT debuted Pirates of the Silicon Valley tonight. The film features Noah Wyle (ER fame) playing Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall (16 Candles, Weird Science fame) as Bill Gates. The film covers the beginning and formative years of Apple and Microsoft.

To get this out of the way -- I have always used IBM compatible computers. I have always used Microsoft operating systems. I have never owned a computer created by Apple.

The reviews of the film I have read to date have not been good. Then again, the reviews were authored by computer journalists and not film critics. I am not a film critic, though I like to think I know a good movie when I see one.

I do know the history of the personal computer industry. As I am a stickler for accurate details, I was expecting to see a fluff piece with the timelines skewed for creative liberties. In particular, I thought for sure TNT would decide to exclude an extremely important piece of information related to MSDOS. I was wrong. In total, the movie was very well done and highly entertaining for those in the computer industry. For those who are not familiar with the players, products or industries the movie will be a bit confusing.

The film begins with Steve Jobs on the set of the infamous 1984 Apple Commercial explaining what his company is trying to do. The next scene shows how ironic life can be. In the same big brother motif used for the 1984 commercial, we see a smiling Bill Gates towering over Steve Jobs at the 1997 MacWorld. The movie then begins in earnest to show us how they got to this point.

The story is told not from the perspective of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but from Steve Wozniak and Steve Ballmer. Steve Wozniak was the brains behind the first three generations of Apple computers. He no longer works for Apple on a day to day basis. Steve Ballmer was the marketing arm of Microsoft after they initially started.

He continues working with Microsoft to this day.

The method of using these folks to narrate the story is dynamic and fun. At one point, Ballmer leaps from the screen to explain the scene that is happening. A super use of special effects!

I won't bore you with a blow by blow of the movie. Surprisingly, the film does a very good job of capturing the public persona both of these individuals have become known for. Steve Jobs is portrayed as a domineering visionary who always has an eye on the melding of art and science. Bill Gates is shown as a shrewd businessman who always sees the hows of the business deal.

From an acting point of view I think both actor's delivered very good performances. I know many people are singing the praises of Noah Wyle while nailing Michael Anthony Hall. I found Hall's performance to be more riveting and insightful than Wyle's. Many times I thought Wyle was Wyle acting like Jobs, while I never thought for one second an actor was portraying Gates. Hall does an excellent job of not only capturing Bill Gates' personality as we all know it, but he also goes deeper. Hall seems to do everything Gates does including fidgeting with his glasses and even humming Sinatra tunes.

The acting trophy for best portrayal should go to John DiMaggio who until now could be best known as the voice of Bender from the new TV show Futurama. Having seen Steve Ballmer talk in person a number of times and viewing his stage presence, you could swear he took a part in the movie.

So how is history presented? On the traditional grading scale, I would give it a B. The computers used in the movie seem to be originals. It was neat to see a 1st generation Apple and a Lisa. As for the hows and whys of what happens, the movie does a good job of showing the beginning of Microsoft, though the Paul Allen influence is downplayed. The movie does a superb job of illustrating the beginning of Apple. Unlike many stories of Microsoft, the movie does a good job of showing us how Microsoft sold IBM on MSDOS. It does show how Microsoft didn't develop the original MSDOS, but purchased it. This is almost always glossed over by other folks. I was surprised to see they didn't mention the fact that Gates' mother was a United Way board member with IBM's chairman at the time John Akers. I think the biggest myth in computer history is that Microsoft is a company that invents products. This movie does a great job of showing Microsoft isn't really into creating, but in improving. If you think of any major Microsoft achievement, just dig a little below the surface and you will see that its roots are someplace else. The movie typifies this by having both Jobs and Gates quote Picasso - "Good artists copy, great artists steal."

Is this movie a complete, impartial history lesson? Nope. Is it entertaining and well performed. Yes! If you didn't get a chance to see the movie, I suggest you set your VCR or watch the next showing on TNT.

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