Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 83 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:
Fanatics getting their due
“Welcome to Macintosh” is an inside baseball movie, the type of film that’s aimed at a small segment of the population. Even with Apple’s incredible resurgence over the past decade-plus, there may be some people who are new to the Mac and thus may be interested in this documentary, but the reality is, only the most diehard of fans will want to sit through the entire thing. General computer users may not be interested in the kind of geeky minutiae this film digs into. If you’re looking for salacious stories about Steve Jobs or other kinds of drama, you won’t find it here.
That’s not a knock on this movie; I enjoy geeky minutiae. As someone who used a Mac way back when, then started using Windows and returned to the Mac in 2000, I’ve seen both sides of the fence in the Computer Holy Wars. I’m not zealous about using a Mac, but I appreciate that Steve Jobs’ control of the hardware and the software results in a much more satisfactory experience. Microsoft thought it was smart to focus on software and partner with OEMs, which did result in them gaining an overwhelming share of the OS market, but it also created an industry full of Frankenstein PCs that don’t work as well as they should. In addition, Mac OS X has simply held up better on the security front, although Apple should never rest on its laurels in that department.
Since the Mac is the computer that took the industry from the clunky command line interface days of DOS and the Apple OS to the much-improved world of graphic user interfaces, that’s where the bulk of this documentary places its focus. It blurs that vision a bit by discussing Apple’s early days and getting into the troubled years of the 1990s, when Jobs’ return to the helm saved it from disaster, but all of that is in service to a second idea threaded through this film: the so-called “Cult of Mac,” the ever-loyal users who have supported Apple through thick and thin. Of course, where some see hardcore fans, others see mindless zombies, so your mileage may vary. (For contrast, look at pretty much every other fan base on the planet, whether it’s people who love “Star Trek,” folks who closely follow a favorite sports team, or anything else.)
That idea has even spawned a book, “Cult of Mac,” whose author, Leander Kahney, appears in the film. “It’s not a cult; it’s a rational choice,” he says at one point, referring to the many “switchers” who have abandoned Windows for the Mac in recent years, thus softening the crazed zealot image a bit. He’s joined in the film by other Mac community luminaries, including Mac co-creator Andy Hertzfeld, early Apple co-founder Ron Wayne (the Stu Sutcliffe of the company, minus the tragic death), user group representatives and collectors of all things Mac, former employees, including evangelist Guy Kawasaki, and many more.
Jobs doesn’t appear, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the company and knows that he almost certainly wouldn’t participate (as some comments in the closing credits attest), nor does other Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who is more amiable. I don’t know if Wozniak was asked to talk, but my assumption is that the filmmakers wanted to maintain a little distance on the subject matter. In addition, Wozniak has told his stories many times over the years, while this film’s participants haven’t had nearly as many opportunities to tell their tales.
Shots of old Macs sitting in a barn, sitting on a downed tree over a creek, on a tire swing, in a cemetery, and so forth serve as amusing counterpoints to the topics at hand. The filmmakers also switch to grainy black-and-white footage at times, with bouncy music always playing underneath (it reminded me a little of the music Apple often uses in its advertising and marketing materials). All of that serves to make watching the talking heads a little more interesting.
Watching people talk, especially about an inside baseball kind of subject, can become deathly dull in the wrong hands, and “Welcome to Macintosh” comes dangerously close to that territory toward the end, when Hertzfeld and ex-Apple engineer Jim Reekes discuss the technological nuances behind the Mac’s startup sound. It’s the kind of subject that might be fascinating to a rapt Mac User Group crowd, or a Macworld Expo panel, but it began to bore even me, and I enjoy hearing little-known facts about interesting subjects.
While I realize the Mac’s start-up sound is one of its defining characteristics, and thus merited inclusion in the film, I didn’t really care about the engineering that went into it – that subject could have been pared down to an explanation of the philosophy behind using it, which was much more interesting.
The documentary ends with a variety of outtakes from the interviews, an idea that carries into the bonus features, where you’ll find three hours of extended interview footage (the start-up sound technology discussion should have been relegated there). Some of that extra footage is repeated from the film, but that’s only because some context is required for the comments.
Rounding out this disc are: a making-of featurette, which consists mostly of behind-the-scenes footage; behind-the-scenes photos; four trailers; a digital version for use on portable devices (including the iPod and iPhone, of course); and a compilation of those counterpoint photos of Macs in various environments.
Posted on October 15, 2009 in Reviews by Brad Cook
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