Ashton Kutcher has mastered Steve Jobs’ stooped gait and steely gaze. From certain angles he bears a striking resemblance to the late Apple co-founder. The actor clearly put a ton of work into this part, and even though he’s ultimately less than convincing in the role of renegade technology genius, he deserves credit for making the effort, at least.

So this is the real problem with “Jobs,” the movie: How is it possible to turn such an epic story into such a boring film?

jobs3That was the consensus after an impromptu GeekWire Movie Night on Thursday, when GeekWire’s John Cook, Findwell’s Kevin Lisota and I caught an early showing of the new movie, which will be broadly released in theaters today. (We got to the screening early, because I thought there might be a mob of Apple fans outside. In reality, we watched with 16 people in a nearly empty theater.)

After seeing the trailer and an early clip, I went in with low expectations for Kutcher’s performance. But it was at least mildly interesting to watch him attempt to embody Jobs. My bigger frustration was that Apple’s actual story was far more dramatic than this movie.

People who read the Walter Isaacson book or follow the tech industry — the ones who should theoretically enjoy the movie the most — will instead walk away scratching their heads over the story … if they stay awake through it.

John’s conclusion: It should have been a made-for-television movie. If that’s the case, I’d actually prefer Pirates of Silicon Valley for its unabashed campiness.

The fundamental problem is the choice of timeframe. “Jobs” focuses on the period from Apple’s creation to Jobs’ ouster and his return to lead the company. The development of the original Apple, the Apple II, the Lisa and the Mac get lots of attention. In the opening scene, Jobs is shown introducing the iPod to Apple employees.

These are obviously important historical events. However, the iPhone and the iPad are completely left out of the story. It seems crazy to release a film about Apple in 2013 without at least a nod the company’s iconic smartphone and tablet, to give current audiences a frame of reference for the historical material.

At times, the movie feels like it’s checking off boxes and charging through a superficial outline of the Apple story. But if that’s the case, there are many moments missing: No visit to the XEROX Palo Alto Research Center. No Macworld 1997. No iPhone unveiling. No reference to Jobs’ illness or his decision to initially forgo the medical treatments that might have ultimately saved his life.

jobsthinkEven though I was more than ready for the movie to end, I was surprised when the credits rolled. How can anyone tell the Steve Jobs story without moments like those? Maybe they’re somehow under the impression that there will be a sequel, John speculates. If that’s the case, they’re delusional.

Kutcher’s embodiment of Jobs’ walking style is remarkable, but the director is clearly just a little too impressed with the impersonation, and it’s completely overdone in extended scenes showing the Apple co-founder’s looping stride as he walked through the office. Yes, that’s how Jobs walked in his 50s, like an aging guy with a tender back. But in his 20s? That seems hard to believe.

Also: Where is Bill Gates? The Microsoft chairman is on the other end of the phone line in one scene, getting chewed out by Jobs for “stealing” his software. In one of the movie’s funniest lines, Jobs calls Gates a “psychopathic criminal” — but there’s never an actual Gates character on screen. By glossing over the Apple vs. Microsoft battle, the movie misses a huge opportunity for actual drama.

Instead, it delivers a series of tedious boardroom battles centered on Jobs’ role at the company, as he butts heads with original Apple angel investor Mike Markkula and replacement Apple CEOs John Sculley and Gil Amelio — who are just fine as hapless corporate executives, but subpar as movie villains.

As Kevin pointed out, there wasn’t really a villain in this movie. And despite all of Kutcher’s efforts, the story itself offers a muted portrayal of Jobs. In the movie, the Apple co-founder is not nearly the asshole nor the genius that he seemed to be in real life.

Yes, there are the trademark lines. The first Macintosh isn’t just great, it’s “insanely great.” But much of the rest is hard to swallow. Laying in a field while tripping on acid, Jobs asks why his parents gave him up for adoption, and his friend complains that he’s bringing him down. In one of the movie’s most unintentionally funny lines, Jobs replies, “I’m sorry my life is ruining your high.”

Nice try, Ashton, but we’ll just take that as an apology for this entire film.

Our consensus letter grade: C. And that’s charitable.

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  • Kevin Lisota

    Never thought I’d have a Siskel & Ebert moment like this!

    I found myself comparing to The Social Network, which was way more entertaining, even if it played a little loosely with the real story. Jobs’ story is way more interesting in real life than Zuckerberg, but that movie at least had some drama that kept you invested in the outcome.

    Surprising that a man with so many personal “story arcs” throughout his life couldn’t inspire a more dramatic or intense movie. He had a life of petulant, long-standing-feuds, belittlement yet inspiration of others, creative genius and gigantic failures. Seemed like a rich backdrop for something more dramatic than this.

  • Patrick Husting

    Computer guys are just not that exciting!

  • Brett Nordquist

    Well, that’s a bummer. I was hoping it would be as interesting as the Social Network but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

  • Guest

    Can’t wait to see the next movie about computer guys – “Ballmer”! Too bad John Candy isn’t around anymore to play him.

    • Tired of Stupid Trolls

      Your predictable and endlessly stupid comments aren’t made less so by you also up voting every one of them.

      • Tired of adolescent Net Police

        I’m sure GW can confirm that others voted up this comment. So maybe you’re the stupid troll.

      • Mark

        It’s a law of internet comments. For any story on either Apple or MS, you’re guaranteed at least one whackjob fanbois from the other’s camp will show up and add their idiotic contribution.

        • Guest

          True dat.

        • OP

          Geez, you MS apologists have really no sense of humor. Heavens forbid someone kids about anything related to Microsoft. It’s meant to be a joke, and I don’t even own a single thing from Apple. Sheesh.

          • OP

            And if you REALLY think about it, the above comment also ridicules the whole cult around Jobs (Ashton Kutcher). Nobody would perceive it as a religious experience to see a film on Ballmer (John Candy). ;)

          • Mark

            Apparently you can’t read.

          • OP

            Apparently! lol I clearly misread your comment as confirming the previous poster’s position. Apologies then.

    • Alice

      I am deeply involved with MS and this is hilarious.

  • GeekWire Fan

    If anyone hasn’t seen the 1999 movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, it’s well worth watching. And it would be great if there was a sequel made, with the same great casting/writing/directing. Good line Gates says to Ballmer after the IBM meeting for the DOS deal “Success is a menace Ballmer. It fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

    • Todd Bishop

      I think I’ve actually got a pristine DVD of that Noah Wyle classic somewhere in my garage. If I can find it we’ll give it away on a future Tech Tune challenge.

      • Christopher Budd

        Serious suggestion: see about getting Bill Gates to autograph it and auction it off to charity. I think you could get some good money for that.

  • Guest

    How accurately do they portray his less than admirable qualities? Parking in the handicapped parking lot, being such a total asshole that employees didn’t dare say hi when he walked past them, creatively manipulating options prices and then throwing his VP Finance under the bus to take the blame? Not taking anything away from him. What he achieved overall at Apple, particularly after his comeback, is unbelievably impressive. I doubt we’ll ever see a Corporate second act to rival it. And he certainly ran circles around other competitors, particularly MS. But the guy was as deeply flawed and he was talented. If the movie doesn’t communicate that, I’m not particularly interested in seeing it.

    • Todd Bishop

      Actually, a lot of that was in there, except for the options scandal.

      • Guest

        Okay. Based on your – and Kevin’s – feedback I’m more interested in seeing it now. Thank you both!

    • Kevin Lisota

      Some of that is in there, like parking in the handicapped spot, shorting employees of stock and money and some tirades. But the movie just kind of touches on this but portrays him as much gentler than he actually was.

  • Christopher Budd

    Honestly, I’m surprised it was as good as you say. I expected it to be an F, making it a great candidate for MST3K (if it were still around).

  • CMKelly

    When I was at Apple in the first Jobs era, he walked like a vigorous young man, which he was. And he wasn’t always a jerk. I haven’t seen the movie, but a good scene would have included him laughing at the fake announcement someone sent around saying that henceforth, the logo on the handicapped spaces would be replaced with the Mercedes emblem. I’d also love to see Jobs and Gates arguing face to face–they both seemed to respect people who argued back. For those who liked The Social Network, apparently Aaron Sorkin is writing his own Jobs movie.

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