There's one distinct problem with the made-for-TNT movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley," the story of the rise to fame, power and fortune of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs -- and the rivalry between them.
There's no good guy to root for.Not that they're exactly bad guys, although both Gates and Jobs behave in rather reprehensible manner from time to time. As has been well documented elsewhere, both of them have more than a bit of the pirate in them.
(Gates and Microsoft basically stole all their ideas for Windows elsewhere -- primarily from Apple. But the movie's portrayal of Apple stealing from Xerox is somewhat less than accurate -- Apple licensed them.)
But both of them behaved more than a bit badly along the way to their millions and billions of dollars.
Not that this lack of a hero makes "Pirates of Silicon Valley" any less watchable. As a matter of fact, it's almost must-see viewing for anyone who has ever used a product from Apple or Microsoft -- which, these days, includes just about everyone.
"Are there good guys and bad guys?" said writer/director Martyn Burke in an interview with TV critics. "I think each of them are good guys and bad guys all rolled into one."
Both were brilliant and horrid. Jobs was a workaholic who could both motivate and tremendously intimidate his employees. A great guy who nonetheless refused for years to acknowledge or support a daughter he fathered, even when he had millions to throw around.
"Mr. Jobs is a very interesting guy who has led a very interesting life," Wyle said. "He has made pilgrimages to India. He studied Zen Buddhism very extensively. He has very strict diet habits. His managerial style tends to be ranging from the overly aggressive to the incredibly motivating."
Gates was the ultimate nerd who wasn't above doing whatever it took to build Microsoft. At the same time, he was known to steal bulldozers and race them and was, apparently, a very good rollerskater.
"In reality, he's multi-faceted, I think," Hall said. "I think that his work ethic speaks tremendously of the success of his company. I really got into all of it. It really inspired me to bring his character to life."
But does he like Gates?
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for him," Hall said.
And as different as they were, they were also that much alike.
"I think one thing that makes them similar, actually, is that they both grew up being outsiders in their communities because their interests were interesting only to a very limited amount of people that they were around," Wyle said. "I think it's that feeling of being a bit of an outsider that's a driving force in wanting to be an insider. So, in that way, they're similar, but the methods that they chose were completely different."
And, between them, Gates and Jobs actually have changed the world.
"One of the great things about this story is that it is really about a revolution," Burke said. "I mean, these guys, more than the student radicals who occupied the deans' offices in Columbia and Harvard and all these places, these guys were the real revolutionaries.
"Over and over, the American establishment, as it was represented by all the top businessmen and corporate leaders of the time, missed out on what these guys were doing. One by one, these guys went in to Hewlett Packard, Xerox, IBM, and these guys in all those boardrooms couldn't figure out what they were doing. They overthrew that establishment and the way that business is done, the way we talk to each other and communicate."
As a movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" manages to keep the narrative flowing. It's watchable stuff, even if it isn't easy to identify or sympathize with the principals.
"You have to view this as one of the most Shakespearean stories in American public life," Burke said. "It is a story of two young men surrounded by all the others, who were their friends and colleagues, who basically exhibited lust, greed, betrayal."
Shakespearean indeed. It's framed by a pair of events that are startling in their irony. The first came in 1984, when Jobs unveiled his Apple commercial based on George Orwell's 1984 -- the spot in which Big Brother was looking down on the masses.
"At that time, Steve Jobs believed that Big Brother -- his enemy -- was IBM," said Burke. "He didn't get, though, that his real foe was Bill Gates."
The second event came in 1997, when Jobs -- who had been forced out of Apple in 1985 and returned in 1996 -- "had to stand up on a podium with the looming image of Bill Gates behind him, looking down on him. That was when the real Big Brother was looking down on Steve Jobs."