Sure, Johnny Depp may get all the attention these days with his Pirates of the Caribbean quadrilogy. But before those films came along, there was another good film about pirates – only they were pirates of a very different sort. Pirates of Silicon Valley is a made-for-TV adaptation of the book Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. The movie chronicles the divergent paths that the Apple and Microsoft teams took as they revolutionized the personal computer industry. Full disclosure from this reviewer – I am a fan of both companies and use both their products. The film covers not only the origins of the businesses and the development of the technology, but also delves into the personal lives of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
I found the history fascinating, but the characters nearly universally unlikeable. Noah Wyle exudes a sort of unstable charm as Steve Jobs. Anthony Michael Hall portrays Bill Gates as a socially inept yet ruthless businessman. John Di Maggio seems to channel a bit of his voicework of Bender from Futurama as he portrays Steve Ballmer as a dimwitted partying fratboy. Really, the only figures who escape relatively unscathed are Paul Allen and Steve Wozniak. On a completely unrelated note, as a Deep Space Nine fan, it was great to see J. G. Hertzler as Ridley Scott during the filming of the epic 1984 commercial.
Although the production values are excellent for a made-for-TV movie, you won’t be fooled into thinking this film received a theatrical release. But, the pacing is snappy, and if you have an interest in the subject matter, you’ll find it well worth your while. Easily the most interesting part of the film is the time period in which it was filmed – not the time period it portrayed. As the movie comes to a close, it provides an update on how the characters fared, as of 1999. At that point, things looked pretty bleak for Apple. I remember watching the film when it first aired – and thinking how sad it was that Apple appeared on the verge of failure. I’m certainly glad that the movie and I were both wrong in our pessimistic views.