Will Ashton Kutcher be Able to Fill Steve Jobs’ Shoes on the Silver Screen?
Granted, Ashton Kutcher resembles Steve Jobs in his younger days, so the casting of the 2013 film “Jobs” seems appropriate in that sense. Josh Gad also looks a little like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The film about the legendary tech pioneer who crossed over into pop culture premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opens August 16. Leading up to the Box Office release there have been mixed reviews from critics who have previewed the movie directed by Joshua Michael Stern.
The film was shot in the summer of 2012 in Los Altos, California, where Steve Jobs grew up and in Los Angeles. Kucher is most famous for his roles in the TV comedies “That 70s Show” and “Two and a Half Men.” Other cast members are Amanda Crew, Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine and J.K. Simmons. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who worked at Apple twice from 1976 to 1985 and 1996 to 2011, died on October 5, 2011 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. He lived to see Apple become the most valuable company in the world.
What’s interesting about the charismatic tech leader, who was named “CEO of the Year” by various financial publications throughout the 2000s, is that he rose to rock star status as a tech curator and marketer in an era when the music industry completely fell apart financially. Many music and financial analysts agree that it was Steve Jobs who not only saved the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, but he also inspired companies in other industries to dump last century’s rigid suit and tie playbook in favor of a cool, casual and creative approach.
Kutcher vs. Jobs
The idea that Kutcher, who is popular but isn’t exactly considered one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, plays a tech genius who overshadowed the hippest rock stars in the music business, gives the film a certain unique contrast. From the film’s trailer it appears that “Jobs” has a chance of at least doing what the film “Lincoln” did, which is make people forget it’s just a movie and make them feel they are experiencing history.
But as the actual President Lincoln said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” the film is going to be a tough sell no matter what to diehard Steve Jobs fans who have access to hours of real Steve Jobs video footage on YouTube. It’s like if you had the choice of driving to a theater and paying for a fake performance or watching the real thing at home for free, what would you choose? The Hollywood formula of creating documentaries around pop culture legends has worked in the past, but it’s unclear if this type of portrayal just two years after Steve’s death will fly the way movies like “JFK” and “The Doors” did back in the 1990s when the internet was just an underground rumor.
Technically, Jobs was an Artist
As a CEO, Jobs was a different kind of celebrity than a politician, singer or tech guru in Silicon Valley. He wasn’t really a computer programmer like Mark Zuckerberg or a corporate baron like Bill Gates. Jobs was closer to an artist who wanted to change the world. Jobs wasn’t just interested in geeky gadgets or zeroes and ones, as he was also one of the founders of computer animated movie giant Pixar, which he eventually sold to Disney.
In that sense, the movie could be fascinating to people who love innovative technology and are tired of typical Hollywood formulas. There is nothing dull about the actual Steve Jobs story, so that alone gives the film a special edge to begin with. Given that foundation, it shouldn’t be hard for the film to present an amazing drama, as long as it sticks with just the facts.
Compelling or Shallow?
Ordinarily, a film about a CEO or a tech genius might be considered a narrow niche for Hollywood marketers. Hollywood tends to stay close to a short list of formulas for the sake of feeding its most loyal movie goers the same themes over and over. But Jobs was an icon bigger than Hollywood, as he lived to see his company earn more money in a quarter than any blockbuster makes in a year. Jobs even lived to see his company surpass his rival Microsoft in profits, making him the ultimate king of tech, perhaps of all time.
The film focuses more on the early career of Steve Jobs when he and Steve Wozniak were hippies growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s not clear how well the mainstream knows this part of his story, as Jobs did not really emerge as a household name until his second run at Apple starting in the late 90s. There are still many people who assume that IBM or HP started the PC business back in the 80s, but it was really Jobs and Wozniak who started the home computer revolution in the late 70s.
They did it with a little help from their friends, drawing inspiration from companies like Xerox Parc and Hewlett-Packard with their computers, printers and HP inkjet cartridges, but it was mostly Jobs’ vision to turn computers into personal tools beyond corporate and government offices. He wanted computers in every school and every home to empower people, especially with self-publishing. It will be interesting to see how well the film dares to educate its audience.
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