Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels
Steve Jobs is available on DVD and some streaming services Feb. 16.
Like many Steve Jobs inventions, this excellent movie flopped. Why? How?
It isn’t the subject; Steve Jobs is one of the most intriguing persons of the last century. The film’s production team includes writer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing), director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting), and Oscar nominees Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet. When this brilliant three-act movie opened in early October last year, the critical praise was high, and there was a lot of Awards buzz.
Then Steve Jobs only earned $17.7 million on its $30-million budget. By November, it was out of theaters – a shock to the industry. People searched for answers; some said it was too intelligent for audiences.
That’s egotistical. Steve Jobs is simply a great, literate, quick-paced flick that didn’t connect in cineplexes. I won’t go so far as to insult the audience, but I cannot fathom this fantastic film’s failure.
Now, Steve Jobs isn’t even set to show in theaters showing Oscar contenders (likely because it didn’t earn a Best Picture nod). The fact that both Fassbender and Winslet have earned nominations doesn’t seem to have resuscitated the movie. Instead, you can rent or buy it the week before the Oscar ceremonies.
In Cupertino, California, in 1984, Jobs (Fassbender) was on the verge of introducing the Macintosh. Unfortunately, the thing wasn’t working. Jobs’ press secretary (Winslet) was freaking out. Time magazine had written a horrible expose on the man. On top of that, a woman in the lobby was positing that her five-year-old daughter was Jobs’ illegitimate child.
This first scene – which shows clearly why Fassbender and Winslet got nominated – is a shining, tense farce. Obviously, Jobs may be a genius, but he lacks interpersonal skills. The action shifts from crisis to crisis. Director Boyle shoots it all in grainy 16 millimeter with only sickly fluorescent as lighting.
The second and third acts – progressively more professional but clearly structured as copies of the scenes before – show Jobs develop. He gains political savvy and media presence. Whether his interpersonal also improves as his ego blooms is another question altogether.
Jobs presents himself as a great artist – a misunderstood wunderkind whom the world was torturing. It’s true he led teams of engineers to create some of the most impressive technology of our age. How he was as a friend, a father, and a boss is another issue. Geniuses are like this; whether they’re worth the emotional torment is yet another question the film asks.
So, if Steve Jobs is that good, why exactly did it bomb? This is a great discussion for cinema snobs and insiders to posit now they see the film. Perhaps the awful Ashton Kutcher version just a year ago sullied the waters. Perhaps this version just wasn’t compellingly marketed for audiences. I don’t think it’s because we’re stupid, though. I think perhaps – like many of Jobs’ ideas and inventions – it just didn’t catch on the first time. It will once word gets out.