3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 97 minutes
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One hundred years ago, the richest people in America were the Rockefellers, the Gettys, and others who had amassed wealth through industry. These were larger-than-life, blustery men who were ready to kick ass now and ask questions later. And they’d laugh if they could see the richest, most powerful people in this country now.

True, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is known for his very type A personality (I believe he holds the world record for most instances of the word “mercurial” associated with his name), but he’s still not of that cigar chomping, brandy swilling ilk. I mean, the guy spent time in India when he was younger, trying to find himself or whatever. And that Jesus hair and beard wouldn’t have gone over well a century ago.

As for Bill Gates? Well, I don’t think nerds fared well during the dawn of the industrial revolution. Useful for helping build new machines, but certainly not people who were the captains of industry.

The dawn of digital technology, however, means that brain power is ultimately more important than anything else, and someday school kids will learn about the birth of Apple Computer and Microsoft in their American history classes, if they aren’t doing so already. Those two companies are a vital part of not only our economy but also of an industry that has become tightly intertwined in our daily lives. “Everything’s on computer these days,” many veterans of old paper-based systems are often heard to grumble.

Which brings me to “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s book “Fire in the Valley.” Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall perform spot-on impressions of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, respectively, and Joey Slotnick (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak), John DiMaggio (Microsoft co-founder Steve Ballmer) and Josh Hopkins (other Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) put together credible impressions of their own characters.

Of course, one has to remember that key word—“characters”—while watching this film. This isn’t a documentary: it’s a dramatic interpretation of history. That said, it’s an engaging dramatic interpretation, even in the spots where director and writer Martyn Burke takes some license with the proceedings. He gets the broad strokes correct, which is the most important part. I find it fascinating to watch what are now two of the most powerful companies in the world emerge from such inauspicious beginnings, and Burke and his crew do a great job of faithfully recreating the look and feel of the 70s, 80s and 90s as we move through history and watch it unfold.

Unfortunately, this DVD is pretty bare bones. The major bonus feature is a three-minute introduction by Noah Wyle that reveals Steve Jobs called him after the film aired and commended him on his performance. Jobs then asked Wyle to impersonate him and fool the crowd at the next Macworld Expo, which must have been a lot of fun to watch; too bad there’s no footage of that moment on hand. (Jobs’ keynotes are always recorded, so I’d imagine someone at Apple has that video.) Wyle also offers up the usual “I loved working on this film; my fellow actors were amazing in their roles” stuff.

You also get the original TV spot for this film, along with trailers for “The Librarian: Quest For the Spear” and “Evel Knievel.” Whatever. A commentary track, maybe one featuring various tech industry pundits, would have been cool.

I wish this release had also included a documentary about that era in history, such as Robert X. Cringely’s “Triumph of the Nerds,” which was created for PBS. Even if those rights weren’t available, it would have been nice to see Warner Bros. put together its own documentary. I realize, though, that such things cost money, and this wasn’t the kind of high-profile release that a studio was going to want to spend much of its budget on. So, file that under wishful thinking; I’m certainly not going to remove half a star, as I normally do when I feel like a studio has under-delivered in the bonus features department.

Odds are, this one is going to get a lot of rentals by those interested in the history behind those computer thingies sitting on their desks, especially anyone who has been turned on to Apple by the success of the iPod. If you fall into that category, be sure to check this one out; it’s very worthwhile. And if you’re someone who collects computer history stuff, “Pirates of Silicon Valley” should certainly be within your price range.

Posted on October 5, 2005 in Reviews by

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