Hollywood is replete with rivalry, and that often extends to the subjects of films released by competing studios. In 1997, sudden death by lava and ash became a big deal with the summer release of both Volcano and Dante’s Peak. The following year, two separate teams of space explorers climbed aboard two separate spaceships to destroy two separate asteroids in the earnest Deep Impact and the dumb-ass Armageddon. And this year, the classic fairytale of Snow White has been retold via the jokey Mirror Mirror and the battle-strewn epic Snow White and the Huntsman.
So it seems only fitting that, when a biopic of late Apple mainman Steve Jobs was announced, the only thing that could possibly compete was… another film about Steve Jobs. On Friday 18 May, a press release emerged from Five Star Feature Films revealing that their take on the technology mastermind would start filming in June – and, “in keeping with the project’s commitment to accuracy”, would film early scenes “in the actual Los Altos home where Jobs grew up”. During that part of the shoot, the filmmakers announced, they will even film scenes in the historic garage where Jobs founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976.
With the brand-friendly title of jOBS (I know sub-editors who would tear their hair out over that capitalisation, but never mind…), the biopic has inexplicably recruited king of US light entertainment and erstwhile Demi Moore affection victim Ashton Kutcher as the iconic Silicon Valley visionary, but nonetheless promises to “shed new light on Steve Jobs’ most defining and personal moments, motivations, and the people that drove him”. According to Five Star, the film will cover Jobs “from his early years as an impressionable youth and wayward hippie, through his initial successes and infamous ousting [from Apple], to his storybook return and ultimate triumphs, as a man who set out to change the world and did just that”. The production company also bandied about the adjectives “dark”, “honest” and “uncompromising” – presumably as a means of offsetting early waves of unease over the portrayal of a bona-fide genius by the man who used to host MTV Punk’d.
Five Star added that the film’s screenwriter Matt Whiteley has “utilised a team of expert researchers based on months of exhaustive research and interviews with Steve Jobs’ friends, colleagues, and mentors to develop the most truthful and gripping picture of Jobs’ life.”
Meanwhile, in another Burbank production office, another squadron of ambitious media floozies are attempting to fathom the capo di tutti capi of ambition. Set up at Sony Pictures Entertainment, the rival, as-yet untitled version is based upon the famed Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, so it comes with clout attached. And adapting that authoritative tome is none other than Aaron Sorkin: the man who illuminated the life of junior technology mogul and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with his firecracking script for The Social Network.
In an interview with Reuters, Sorkin said: “I know so little about what I am going to write. I know what I am not going to write: it can’t be a straight-ahead biography, because it’s very difficult to shake that cradle-to-grave structure. Drama is tension versus obstacle – someone wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the money, they want the girl, they want to get to Philadelphia – doesn’t matter. And I need to find that event and I will. I just don’t know what it is.”
(Infotainment doesn’t want to come over all pushy, but suggests that terminal illness may provide Sorkin with more than enough hooks for obstacles, tension and character drive.)
Sorkin, it has emerged, is not the only ace up this project’s sleeve. While jOBS screenwriter Matt Whitely lords it over his team of iExperts as they pore over the press cuttings to forge a credible scaffold for Kutcher’s dialogue, the Sorkin film boasts the consultative involvement of Steve Wozniak himself – veteran of the very garage days that Kutcher & Co are aiming to reconstruct. Infotainment is going to make an early call and say that the Sorkin version will have the edge – although it is slightly disappointing that this is not a race between a Steve Jobs biopic and a Bill Gates one: now, that would be a rivalry worth savouring. For now, though, at least we can say that – whichever film wins – they will together begin what is sure to be a lengthy process of understanding an inspirational one-off.