Pirates of Silicon Valley

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Pirates of Silicon Valley

Pirates of Silicon Valley
Directed by Martyn Burke
Produced by Leanne Moore
Written by Paul Freiberger,
Michael Swaine,
Martyn Burke
Starring Noah Wyle
Anthony Michael Hall
Joey Slotnick
John Di Maggio
Josh Hopkins
Music by Frank Fitzpatrick
Distributed by Turner Network Television
Release date(s) June 20, 1999
Running time 95 min.
Language English

Pirates of Silicon Valley is a 1999 film based on the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. It is a made-for-television docudrama written and directed by Martyn Burke which documents the rise of the home computer (personal computer) through the rivalry between Apple Computer and Microsoft.


[edit] Plot

The feature film opens with a monologue by Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) who appears to be talking directly to the audience about the film they are about to see. He states:

I don't want you to think of this as just a film, some process of converting electrons and magnetic impulses into shapes and figures and sounds. No. Listen damn it. We're here to make a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why even be here? We're creating a completely new consciousness, like an artist or a poet. That's how you have to think of this. We're rewriting the history of human thought with what we're doing.

As the camera angle shifts, it is revealed that Jobs is actually talking to director Ridley Scott (J. G. Hertzler), who is in the process of creating the 1984 commercial for Apple Computer (which was released for a single airing in the United States on 22 January 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII and introduced the Macintosh personal computer to an American audience for the first time).[1] In response, Scott tells Jobs, "Well, Steven, right now I'm a touch more worried about getting light on the actress, do you know what I mean?"

The film next jumps ahead to 1997, after Jobs has returned to Apple and announces a new deal with Microsoft at the '97 Macworld Expo. His partner, Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick), is introduced as one of the two central narrators of the story. Wozniak notes to the audience the resemblance between "Big Brother" and the image of Bill Gates (Anthony Hall) on the screen behind Jobs during this announcement. Asking how they "got from there to here," the film turns to flashbacks of his youth with Jobs, prior to the forming of Apple.

The first flashback takes place on the U.C. Berkeley campus during the period of the early seventies student movements. Jobs and Wozniak are shown caught on the campus during a riot between students and police (while Wozniak was a Berkeley student, Jobs was a Reed College student for a short period before dropping out, events which were omitted from the film). With the Moody Blues' song, "Question," in the background, the film turns to a slow motion sequence focusing on Jobs and Wozniak running (in the opposite direction of the students) away from the riots. After finding safety, Jobs states to Wozniak, "Those guys think they're revolutionaries. They're not revolutionaries, we are." Wozniak (as narrator) commenting on these events states,

You know, Steve was never like you or me. He always saw things differently. Even when I was in Berkeley, I would see something and just see kilobytes or circuit boards while he'd see karma or the meaning of the universe.

Using a similar structure, the film next turns to a young Bill Gates at Harvard University, in the early 1970s, with classmate Steve Ballmer (John Di Maggio), and Gates’ high school friend Paul Allen (Josh Hopkins). As with Wozniak in the earlier segment, Ballmer narrates Gates' story, particularly the moment when Gates discovers the existence of the MITS Altair (leading him to drop out of Harvard). Gates' and Allen's early work with MITS is juxtaposed against the involvement of Jobs and Wozniak with the Homebrew Computer Club, eventually leading to the development of the Apple I in 1976. Prior to the sequence which details the introduction of the Apple II at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, Wozniak's voiced-over narration comments,

Microsoft? Nobody I knew ever heard of Microsoft. Or Bill Gates. I mean, they were nobodies. But then we were all nobodies, which was perfect for us. Because all the respectable, straight-arrow guys were busy doing what they always do, which is be respectable. Which meant the rest of us could run around acting like crazies, which is what we did best. I miss those days.

Thus, when then-unknown Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, attempts to introduce himself to Jobs at the fair (among a huge crowd of people interested in the computer), he is snubbed by Jobs.

The film then follows the subsequent development of the IBM-PC with the help of Gates and Microsoft in 1981. Meanwhile, Apple has developed The Lisa and later, the Macintosh, computers which were inspired by the Xerox Alto (a computer which the Apple team viewed during a tour of Xerox PARC during the late 1970s). Gates would later refer to this event when he tells Jobs during an argument, "You and I are both like guys who had this rich neighbor—Xerox—who left the door open all the time. And you go sneakin' in to steal a TV set, only when you get there, you realize I got there first. And you're yelling? That's not fair? I wanted to try and steal it first!" (the director of the Xerox PARC research center, John Seely Brown, after seeing this clip stated in an interview that it was not entirely accurate as Steve Jobs was invited by PARC to view their technology in exchange for Apple shares).[2]

The main body of the film finally concludes with a birthday toast in 1985 to Steve Jobs shortly before he was fired by CEO John Sculley from Apple Computer. It also includes a brief epilogue, noting what happened afterward in the lives of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The movie ends with Steve Jobs returning to Apple after its acquisition of NeXT, and Bill Gates appearing live via satellite at a MacWorld Expo in 1997, during Jobs' first Stevenote keynote address, to announce an alliance between Apple and Microsoft. It notes at the end that Gates, at that time, was the richest man in the world.

[edit] Production

[edit] Development

One of the central thematic aspects of the screenplay is the representation of a young Steve Jobs, who while participating in aspects of the Counterculture of the 1960s, interprets his role in it differently. Actor Noah Wyle who portrays Jobs stated in an interview with CNN, "These kids grew up 30 miles south of the (University of California) Berkeley campus, which was ripe with revolution [...] and they couldn't have cared less about the politics going on. They were in the garage tinkering with their electronics and starting a revolution that was a thousand times greater than anything that was going on the college campuses, politically."[3] Director Martyn Burke also noted in an interview that, "Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the true revolutionaries of our time. Not the students who occupied the dean’s office in the late ’60s. Not the anti-war marchers who were determined to overthrow the establishment. Jobs and Gates are the ones who changed the way the world thinks, acts and communicates."[4] In developing the characters themselves, Burke also stated that he chose not to speak with any of the central figures portrayed in the film:

I did not want to do an "authorized biography" on either Microsoft or Apple, so we made the decision going in that we would not talk or meet with them. With a team of Harvard researchers, I embarked on a seven-month research project that encompassed virtually everything we could find on the history of both companies, including old technical magazines from the '70s. I intended every scene to be based on actual events, including such seemingly fantastic moments as Bill Gates' bulldozer races in the middle of the night and Steve Jobs' bare feet going up on the board room table during an applicant's job interview. I have two or more sources that verify each scene.[5]
Joey Slotnick, left, poses with Steve Wozniak. Slotnick portrayed Wozniak in Pirates of Silicon Valley.

Both Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs responded to the film, though in different ways. Wozniak was one of the few who gave interviews on questions concerning the storyline. He commented in one that, "when the movie opened with [a scene of] tear gas and riots [...] I thought, 'My God! That's just how it was.'[6] He also dedicated part of his personal website to fanmail with questions concerning the film:

The personalities and incidents are accurate in the sense that they all occurred but they are often with the wrong parties (Bill Fernandez, Apple employee #4, was with me and the computer that burned up in 1970) and at the wrong dates (when John Sculley joined, he had to redirect attention from the Apple III, not the Mac, to the Apple II) and places (Homebrew Computer Club was at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) ... the personalities were very accurately portrayed.[7]

Steve Jobs indirectly commented on the film during a practical joke at the 1999 Macworld Expo. This involved actor Noah Wyle (who portrays Jobs in the film). Wyle impersonates Jobs during the keynote speech, something which only becomes apparent when Jobs himself appears on the stage (to the wild applause of the audience). He corrects Wyle's interpretation of him and tells the audience that he "invited [Wyle] here today so he could see how I really act and plus because he's a better me than me." Wyle responds, "Thank you, thank you, I'm just glad you're not mad about the movie." Jobs laughs and states, "What? Me upset? Hey it's just a movie. But you know if you do want to make things right you could get me a little part on E.R." Then as Noah Wyle goes away, he turns and asks Steve "Are you still a virgin?" quoting a part of the film where Steve asks this to a guy who is being interviewed.[8]

[edit] Reception

[edit] Reviews

The Apollo Guide commented that, "Over less than 30 years, a band of shaggy nerds rose to become the richest people on Earth. They were the pioneers of the computer industry [...] While you might think that a story about the creation of computer companies might be as thrilling as your university Pascal course, think again. Seeing this history played out is thoroughly entertaining [...] Jobs, played by Noah Wyle, is a child of the ‘60s: an advocate of peace and spirituality who places art on a higher pedestal than commerce. Jobs' charisma, drive and ideology form a dangerous cocktail. He pushes Apple designers into such a frenzy that they work 90-hour weeks and intensely compete with each other. Anthony Michael Hall does an impressive job mimicking Bill Gates. Gates is portrayed as obsessed and impossibly nerdy."[9] Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argued that the film is, "a fascinating drama filled with Shakespearean twists and betrayals as viewers come to know the geniuses who transformed not only the way we communicate, but the way we live. You're looking at the proof: This review was written using a program created by Gates' Microsoft, and TV Week is designed using one of Jobs' Macintosh computers."[10] John Leonard of NY Magazine, described the film as "a hoot."[11]

The film received an 86% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (6 fresh and 1 rotten reviews).[12]

[edit] Awards and nominations


  • 2000: American Cinema Editors, USA, Eddie for Best Edited Motion Picture Movie for Commercial Television (Richard Halsey)


  • 1999 Emmy Awards - Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or a Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie

[edit] Soundtrack

The soundtrack is made up of classic rock, disco and new wave from the 1970s and early 1980s.

[edit] Song list

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

[edit] External links

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