'Pirates of Silicon Valley': Browsing the recent past
June 18, 1999
From Dennis Michael
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Amid the anti-war activists of the '70s, flourished a couple of revolutionaries who would change the world -- at least from a technological standpoint: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
"Pirates of Silicon Valley," a made-for-TV film about the Microsoft chairman and the Apple Computer co-founder, describes their rise to power and rivalries amid wealth and celebrity. It debuts Sunday night 8 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.
Noah Wyle, who plays Dr. Carter on NBC's "ER," takes on the role of the charismatic and mercurial Jobs. Anthony Michael Hall plays a nerdy Gates.
"These kids grew up 30 miles south of the (University of California) Berkeley campus, which was ripe with revolution," says Wyle. "And they couldn't have cared less about the politics going on. They were in the garage tinkering with their electronics and starting a revolution that was a thousand times greater than anything that was going on on the college campuses, politically."
Wyle and Hall bear some resemblance to their characters, and they have even more important qualifications.
"I've been a Mac man for years," Wyle says.
Hall allies himself with the Microsoft camp.
How closely the characters mimic history is under debate. Filmmakers say they've checked everything with two sources. Writer-director Martyn Burke says he and his researchers dug up old computer magazines, books and newspapers and visited computer museums for six months to prepare for the movie. Still, the scripting takes poetic license with some facts and condensed and passes over many events that occurred during the birth of the personal computer industry.
"Apple true believers are going to hammer this a thousand different ways on the details, but it caught the essence of Jobs and Gates," says Michael Malone, a Silicon Valley author whose new book on Apple is called "Infinite Loop: How the World's Most Insanely Great Computer Company Went Insane." The phrase "Infinite Loop" is a reference to Apple's own address and a phrase used to denote a computer program stuck in a computation.
Will Gates and Jobs watch?
From the beginning, through Apple's thriving days and until he was ousted in 1985, Jobs is portrayed in the film as a tempestuous, sometimes intimidating and often enigmatic leader. In one scene, his character asks an executive during a job interview when Apple was hot whether the man was a virgin.
"I don't think he ever asked a middle-aged business executive if he was a virgin," Malone says. "But that was the one time they caught that weirdness about him, where he liked to put people off balance and have this supercilious smile on his face."
Jobs recruited college students on campuses. There he was often treated like a rock star and would ask his audiences if anyone was still a virgin, Malone adds.
Gates is shown as the more power-hungry of the two men, a quiet, calculating nerd watching Jobs the showman. His explosive and demanding side is played down, but his approach to the business is depicted as he agrees to develop applications software for the Macintosh -- while Microsoft is developing the Windows operating software.
"I have seen it, and our general response is, 'Hey, it's a made-for-TV movie.' That says about enough," says Microsoft spokesman John Pinette. "The people involved have admitted and said they have taken some historical license... It is just unfortunate that parts of it aren't accurate."
Asked whether Gates will watch the movie, Pinette replies that Gates doesn't watch much TV.
As for Jobs, the Apple spokesman says the company isn't paying attention to the movie. "It's a non-issue for us... We sell computers."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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