Factions Form For and Against Upcoming 'Steve Jobs' Film

Controversy is building around Steve Jobs, an upcoming film based on Walter Isaacson's biography of the same name. While praised by critics, The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required) the film is being criticized by some of the people who were closest to him, including his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and long-time Apple board member Bill Campbell.

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, has praised it for capturing the spirit of Steve Jobs. Mr. Wozniak was paid some US$200,000 to consult on the film, according to a stolen copy of the film's budget.

Steve Jobs

The film was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, who also directed Slumdog Millionaire. It stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak. According to those who have seen it, it heavily features Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs's first child, though she was not prominent in Mr. Isaacson's book.

The book itself has also been criticized by Steve Jobs's inner circle, with several Apple executives stating publicly that it didn't portray the Steve Jobs they knew and loved. They instead have extolled the virtues of Becoming Steve Jobs, a much different book about the late tech icon, and a project for which many interviewed.

Those two books are completely different in nature. Walter Isaacson's biography was written in cooperation with Steve Jobs, who spent a lot of time with his biographer. Steve Jobs is more of an academic history, a linear telling of Steve Jobs's life that hews towards a dry recitation of facts and context.

Becoming, on the other hand, is more of a philosophical look at the many influences and events that shaped Steve Jobs and turned him into the great tech executive he became—all, as seen through the eyes of journalist Brent Schlender (Rick Tetzeli co-authored the book).

Pro tip: read both books if you are interested in Mr. Jobs.

Getting back to the movie, the most interesting aspect of The Wall Street Journal's piece on Monday is that Laurene Powell-Jobs reportedly lobbied to have the project canceled, working on both Sony, the film's first studio, and Universal Pictures, the studio that actually made the film and is releasing it now.

That information comes from sources close to the film—producer Scott Rudin—so take it with a grain of salt. According to him, the filmmakers tried to work with Ms. Powell-Jobs (like they did with Mr. Wozniak), but she declined.

"She refused to discuss anything in Aaron’s script that bothered her despite my repeated entreaties," Mr. Rudin said. "[She] continued to say how much she disliked the book, and that any movie based on the book could not possibly be accurate."

Bill Campbell, former coach, former Apple executive, the founder of Intuit, an Apple board member, and a mentor to Steve Jobs, was a little more circumspect. He said, "A whole generation is going to think of him in a different way if they see a movie that depicts him in a negative way."

But he hasn't seen the film, either, according to The Journal.

Preponderance of Evidence

What to make of all this? No one book or movie can capture everything about any human. If you want to understand someone you didn't know, you have to absorb as much source material as you can get your hands on. Read it all, watch it all. Then read criticisms of it all and decide what has value and what doesn't.

I found Steve Jobs and Becoming Steve Jobs both to reveal amazing and interesting insights on their subject (and others, too)—more specifically, I don't think Walter Isaacson's book painted Mr. Jobs in a negative light. I think it shined a light on many aspects of a great man. Some of those aspects were dark or negative, but the picture as a whole was bright.

Becoming, on the other hand, had a very unique angle. If anything, by focusing so intently on the mistakes and failures that led to Mr. Jobs's return to Apple, it painted the more negative picture of Mr. Jobs, yet Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, and other insiders praised it for revealing the real Steve Jobs.

The discussions on the Danny Boyle film are similarly drenched in contradictions. Steve Wozniak criticized the Ashton Kutcher biopic Jobs for being inaccurate, yet he has publicly given Steve Jobs a pass for capturing the spirit of Steve Jobs and the experience of working with Steve Jobs, even though many scenes are made from whole cloth.

My guess is that the legacy of Steve Jobs can survive this movie, whether or not it gets some aspects of his life wrong. It will probably even enhance that legacy as it adds to the body of work about the man.

Of course, I haven't seen it yet. So what do I know?