There are few screenwriters with the clout of Aaron Sorkin, the Academy-Award winning writer of The Social Network, as well as the brains behind The West Wing. When it comes to directors, not many currently working today have a reputation and loyal fan-base as ardent as Danny Boyle’s (an Oscar winner himself, for Slumdog Millionaire). Meanwhile, in regards to deciding upon the finest actor in the world, few would argue with Michael Fassbender. So when bringing these three visionaries together, it’s bound to have a great appeal to a broad audience of filmgoers, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.
Steve Jobs – the very endeavor which unites the aforementioned trio of talents – has just been withdrawn from two thousand cinemas across the United States by Universal, following a disastrous opening few weeks. In the previous five weeks, the film grossed merely $17 million, falling way short of the $30 million production cost. In fact, Apple bring in more revenue every 38 minutes than the film has since it first opened. While watching the title – which has a running time of 122 minutes – Apple will have accumulated over $54 million.
But why are the public not flocking to the cinemas to indulge in this production? Because, and quite simply, we generally aren’t fussed about this particular story. As was made evident when Joshua Michael Stern’s 2013 offering Jobs (with Ashton Kutcher playing the eponymous protagonist) failed to even land a theatrical release in the UK, thanks to the awful reviews and lack of general intrigue.
There’s not really any reason for us to care. We may all carry smart phones around in our pockets, as we tap, flick, push and sync until our heart’s content, wandering the streets like zombies, gliding past strangers as we all keep our heads down and eyes peeled on the screen. Nobody uses the term ‘mp3 player’ anymore, as the iPod brand, similarly to Hoover or Breville or Google, is now the standardized term for a common utility – while you can survey coffee shops across the country and see almost as many MacBooks as you do lattes.
But so what? We don’t care much for Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, nor do we have any real interest in Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita of Sony – while the names Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker will probably mean very little to you, despite being those behind Starbucks, where you’re likely to have spent money, a lot of money, across the past decade. Yes, Steve Jobs was an innovator, he was forward-thinking, resourceful, ingenious and courageously experimental, but that doesn’t mean we really treasure his story. Someone out there invented the toaster (Charles Strite, to be precise) – and we all love toast. But would we feel enticed by a biopic of the man?
The sad, somewhat perplexing thing is, the film is really good, and following a triumphant showing as the closing film to this year’s London Film Festival, the critics have commended this endeavor, evident in the 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (while Spectre lingers below with just 64%). The Telegraph called the film ‘manically entertaining’ and The Guardian opted for ‘a theatrically ingenious piece’. Because it is – it’s structured in an episodic fashion, into three acts, each in real time – one in ’84, and then later in ’88 and ’98 – taking place behind the scenes of different Apple launches, complete with that fast-paced, distinctive Sorkin dialogue marrying it all together.
But critics are paid to see movies. Critics have an obligation to watch and review the biggest releases and have opinions on the leading talking points, the films by the likes of Sorkin, Boyle and Fassbender. But would these same people, those who admired the picture, those who were moved and compelled by the experience, have paid to see this film outside of work, just as regular members of the public? The box office statistics would suggest that there’s a very good chance they might have steered clear themselves.