`Pirates' full of irony, wit

Preview: TNT romp takes entertaining look at the rise of Bill Gates and the fall of Steve Jobs.

June 19, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

It's 1984. Apple founder Steve Jobs ushers in a new world order with the introduction of the Macintosh computer. He announces his creation with a TV commercial that becomes legendary, a Ridley Scott-directed ode to George Orwell's "1984," complete with faceless minions and Big Brother watching from a giant video screen.

When a young woman runs up to the screen and smashes it, the message to those in the know is clear: Big Brother (or, more accurately, Big Blue, aka IBM) was being knocked down a peg from its position atop the high-tech world of computers.

TNT's "Pirates of Silicon Valley," the story of Jobs and Bill Gates and their fight over control of the technological revolution they helped create, opens with the filming of that commercial. But then the scene shifts; more than a decade has passed, and now Jobs, who so proudly helped bring down one giant, finds himself under the thumb of another. This time it's Gates, and the setting is the announcement, by Jobs, that Gates' Microsoft has bought into Apple.

Jobs makes the announcement, but he's dwarfed by the towering video-screen image of Gates, smirking uncontrollably at his great good fortune. Welcome back, Big Bro.

The fast-paced and consistently entertaining "Pirates of Silicon Valley" is filled with such ironies, strange twists of fate and fortune that made the growth of the personal-computer industry not only an amazing business story, but a compelling personal tale as well. Essentially an extended series of vignettes chronicling Jobs' rise and slide and Gates' rise, the film is a '90s morality tale that's really as old as drama itself: the great man who succeeds and succeeds until he believes he can do nothing but succeed, at which point his crash becomes a certainty.

That great man is Jobs, played with vigor and megalomaniacal glee by Noah Wyle ("ER"). His tale, narrated by one-time partnerSteve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick), starts off full of promise. Fresh off the Berkeley campus, Jobs envisions Apple as a sort of technological commune, paradise, where everyone works together as a family, producing computers that help promote the general good.

But when success comes, after Apple introduces the first mass-marketed personal computer and starts raking in the millions, Jobs turns from a benevolent father to a raging despot. His ire, which had once been turned toward corporate giants like IBM, is turned toward his own workers.

Even worse, he lets down his guard long enough for Bill Gates and Microsoft to walk in and totally undermine him. As Gates, Anthony Michael Hall, a staple of director John Hughes' '80s teen flicks, brings just the right amount of geeky menace to the role.

As portrayed in the film, Gates and Jobs started off as rough equals, both college kids pirating ideas and technology from everyone in their path. But as history would bear out, Gates proved much better at it, primarily, "Pirates" implies, because he never saw himself as anything more than a high-tech pickpocket.

"Pirates of Silicon Valley" is irresistibly sly and irreverent (it loves poking fun at all the suits that dismissed both Jobs and Gates as crackpots not worthy of their attention). And casting Hall as Bill Gates is a stroke of genius; you can't help but chuckle at how the nerd from "The Breakfast Club" grew up to be the richest man in the world.

`Pirates of Silicon Valley'

When: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. (repeats at 10 p.m. and midnight) tomorrow

Where: TNT

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