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Pirates of Silicon Valley
starring: Noah Wiley and Anthony Michael Hall

by David
Summer, 1999

I have this friend who is a nerd. He got a lot of crap in high school for being skinny and nerdy and smart, and he's continued to live with that hanging over him his whole life. Of course it doesn't help that he's really into computers, can recite the lines from any Star Wars movie at the drop of a hat, and throws like a girl. He's not a bad guy, mind you, just a certified, card-carrying nerd. That is why I was so excited when I heard about TNT's latest movie project, Pirates of Silicon Valley -- a sort of biography of the personal computer, told through the eyes of Steve Jobs (Apple Computers) and Bill Gates (Microsoft). I thought to myself, "this movie was made for me...uh, I mean him. 'Cause it's clearly for nerds, y'know?

So Monday night I watched Pirates with this friend, who's a real guy and his name is ...Bob...Corchoraninam. He was all excited because he's really into computers (a nerd, as I said), especially Apple Macintosh computers. Apparently, this Steve Jobs guy is some kinda hero to him, I don't know -- it seems like a computer guy is kind of a pansy role model, but, hey, he's my friend. Anyway, the movie starts with this Jobs guy (played really well by Noah Wyle from ER -- his intense stare really creeped me out. If this Jobs guy is like that in real life, I'd almost be scared of him, even if he is a nerd) talking to the camera during the filming of some famous commercial in 1984. It was pretty straight-forward, and basically shows what an ego-maniac the guy is. Then all of the sudden the movie starts to flash back to 1971 or so on the Berkely Campus during a riot without really explaining what is happening. The whole thing (in the beginning) was narrated by this character named "the Woz" (Steve Wozniak, played by Joey Slotnick and a huge beard), apparently Steve Jobs' even nerdier little friend. The thing about Jobs thet got me was that he didn't really seem like a nerd, more like some freaked-out scary cult leader.

Anyway, It was beginning to get hard to follow when Bill Gates first made his appearance. Now, even I know Bill Gates, and Anthony Michael Hall (who played him) was awesome. It is hard to believe that anyone who could be so cool as a high-school football star in Johnny B. Good could be so nerdy as Bill Gates, but Hall did it. This part of the movie became even more confusing, as it was narrated by a guy who we barely even saw (Steve Ballmer, played by John DiMaggio) until later in the movie. To top it all off, when Ballmer finally did appear as a major character, he was totally annoying. He reminded me of a bad UPN sitcom actor -- always mugging and overacting.

The whole movie is a little random -- weird cuts from scene to scene without much explanation of passage of time or what has happened in the breaks, so it is all pretty confusing. My buddy, Bob, seemd to follow, but I think that was because he already knew the story -- I had to keep asking who characters were and what was going on because I am not a nerd and didn't already know the story like my not-made-up friend. Direction was weak and random, and there were a lot of cutesy little tricks used to integrate the narration and the story that came out of nowhere and were really annoying. The script was weak -- it relied heavily on pithy quotes that (according to Bob) have been attributed to Jobs or Gates over the years to create character -- little time was spent developing either character beyond those quotes. A small part of the movie was spent on Jobs' illegitimate daughter, Lisa, and it was briefly mentioned that Jobs was adopted, but apart from that his back story was not told, and nothing is mentioned about Gates before his time at Harvard.

All that said, there were redeeming factors. The story behind the movie is, even for guys like me who are not nerds, intriguing and important -- these two guys shaped the way we do everything today. Jobs and Wozniak pioneered the idea of a personal computer, and Bill Gates and crew the idea of software that did not belong to a computer manufacturer and could be licensed to many companies. Gates even designed that traffic counter that you see everywhere that counts cars using a little rubber tube stretched across the road (that was not in the movie -- I ... I mean, Bob ... just happened to know that). There are a lot of big revelations about why we use computers the way we do, and why Microsoft owns the world while Apple (who, at one time, controlled 50% of the computer market) struggled all through the early 90's and is only in the last 2 years pulling itself out of the mire. In addition, there are definitely funny moments -- watching Bill Gates try to pick up girls at a roller rink is certainly good for a laugh.

All in all, I think if you are a nerd or computer geek (like Bob, who is not me), you will be enthralled by this made-for-TV movie, though you will probably know everything in it already -- Bob says there are no big revelations. If you are not a nerd, I think you should watch it anyway because you learn a lot of important things, despite the poor packaging. Wyle and Hall do a really good job in their roles, and a lot of the supporting cast (not counting DiMaggio) are strong as well. Bob, who is not really me, agrees, and adds that "Apple rules."

Damn nerds.

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