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Steve Jobs (Blu-ray Review)

5 Feb, 2016

Street 2/16/16
Box office $17.77 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language
Stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz.

Aaron Sorkin can hardly be faulted for eschewing the typical biopic formula in his approach to developing the Steve Jobs screenplay.

That was the approach used for the poorly received 2013 film Jobs, which cast Ashton Kutcher as the tech innovator and co-founder of Apple Computer, depicting him as a petulant and unlikeable opportunist. The end result was a movie that presented a scenes depicting the key moments of the man’s life, but as a whole didn’t add up to much.

Sorkin, master screenwriter that he is, manages to craft the cohesive message that was missing from that film out of what basically amounts to just three scenes representing the most dynamic chapters of Jobs’ career, highlighting his ouster from and eventual return to Apple.

The story that Sorkin builds is less about the history of Steve Jobs and more about the idea of him, providing a character study of a visionary who had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up to him so he could drag it into the future, while the world keeps trying to pull him back to reality through the evolving relationships with those most associated with him.

The centerpiece of this theatricality is Michael Fassbender as Jobs, who brilliantly conveys the attitude of a man who can’t understand why everyone else can’t quite understand the greatness he sees in himself. Kate Winslet provides the perfect counterpoint as marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, who is tasked with keeping Jobs focused before the three product launches that frame the film — the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.

The primary point of distractions include Jobs’ tenuous relationship with his daughter, Lisa, whom he takes great pride in even as he claims she isn’t his; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the Apple co-founder who feels most slighted by Jobs’ rise despite not demonstrating the technical skills as those he seeks dominion over; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), a programmer whose loyalty is often met with contempt; and former Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels, a Sorkin veteran from “The Newsroom”), who Jobs comes to see as the biggest obstacle to accomplishing his goals.

While Sorkin takes tremendous liberties with the historical record, the Scully scenes are his biggest indulgence into pure fantasy, since Jobs and Scully never reunited after Jobs left Apple in 1985. Their scenes together represent a sort of cathartic exercise on Sorkin’s part, imagining their post-ouster reunion as a conflagration of titans looking for closure.

The film is clearly a showcase for Sorkin’s dialogue, as it allows him to indulge in his favored pastime of bouncing hyper-capable characters off each other. But what the Blu-ray makes abundantly clear for anyone willing to look a bit deeper into the production is just how Danny Boyle turned it into a coherent film that keeps the audience engaged.

The Blu-ray itself is somewhat light on extras, but what it does have is substantial — a three-part making-of documentary running almost 45 minutes, and two separate but informative commentary tracks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of references to deleted scenes that are inexplicably not included on the disc.

As for the commentaries, Boyle goes solo in the first one, heaping the expected praise upon Sorkin and his cast, and discussing some of the production ins-and-outs and what making the film meant to him.

But the real fun is in the commentary with Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham, which becomes a fascinating lesson in filmmaking as they discuss the process of bringing text to life.

Sorkin jokes about being miffed about how much of his words were left on the cutting room floor before gushing about how great the movie is for little details that he never would have considered (such as an opening prologue with Arthur C. Clarke). Graham’s constant refrain is the need for pacing to not alienate the audience, and presenting dialogue-heavy scenes in ways to make them visually interesting and energetic while not detracting from the great performances of the actors.

The pair seem genuinely impressed by each other’s talent, though it will be interesting to see what lessons Sorkin has gleaned from the experience when he directs his first movie, currently slated to be the poker drama Molly’s Game.

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