By now it’s no secret that Steve Jobs was a controlling, egomaniacal bully. Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs presupposes that, maybe, he wasn’t all that bad. As if testing the mettle of its rendition of the late Apple co-founder, to say nothing of audience endurance, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is broken into three disparate chunks, each played in something approximating real time. Michael Fassbender stars as the Mephistophelean Jobs, seen exclusively in the minutes ticking down to one of his signature keynote speech-cum-product launches—the first Macintosh in 1984, the neXT “black cube” in 1988, and finally, the desktop iMac in 1998—with frisky expository montages filling in the peaks and dips of his storied career between acts. But despite this intriguing structure and the vigor of its execution, Boyle’s film can’t help but land in the same hagiographizing place as nearly every single other Great Man biopic churned out by the studio powers that be.
Johanna Hoffmann (Kate Winslet) is Jobs’s handler, unofficial shrink, and “work wife,” walking him through each of the three long mornings leading up to the respective launches, clipboard in hand. Each event is preempted by a litany of technical troubleshoots and confrontational “sessions” between Jobs, once-and-former Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), and long-suffering developers Andy Hertzfeldt (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen). Across the three chronologies, no through line is as dramatically pressing as Jobs’s pathological unwillingness to acknowledge his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa, and pay child support to his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann (Katherine Waterston).
True to Sorkin’s form, the majority of these hashings-out take place during peripatetic walk and talks, with each member of the film’s Greek chorus lodging both zingers and accusations at Jobs in equal, dogged proportion. As Boyle barely leaves time for the dust from these interpersonal clashes to settle, no viewer could be blamed for assuming Jobs’s naysayers—each, in their own way, having been demonstrably steamrolled by the tech guru—will vanish from the remainder of the film. Just as Jobs endures, so do they—all, exempting Chrisann, looping back around for another featured turn in each act, and with added life wisdom, to grapple one last time with their once and future, and legendarily dickheaded, boss.
The screenwriter’s signature verbal-diarrhetic dialogue allows for a nonstop blaring of actorly chops that, like the movie at large, is nothing if not committed. It’s incumbent on Boyle’s cast to suggest a realistic “corporate culture” at Apple outside the film’s confined set pieces, and for the most part they succeed wildly: As Hoffmann, Winslet is particularly adroit at summarizing two decades spent under Jobs’s thumb without her tics feeling atemporal. Playing Jobs as a tortured genius trapped under the burden of a Gatsby-esque public persona, Fassbender would have us believe the tech guru lived every minute of his life in full-blown visionary-entrepreneur mode, his veins practically varicose with self-bedazzlement. But the actor’s technical prowess gives Jobs’s nasally lilt and pleading appeal a double-sided edge, making both the good and bad Jobses sufficiently plausible.
Steve Jobs’s triparite structure is probably as audacious a choice a Hollywood studio can make: the minute-to-minute claustrophobia of the launches means the acting (and the beyond-prolix script) are thrown under an unforgiving degree of scrutiny. But if the begraddled present tense of the three acts makes for a superficially exhilarating movie-going experience, Sorkin’s text betrays the hoariness of its motivating Big Concept early and often. Jobs’s on-screen relationship with Scully is essentially one protracted heart to heart that exists principally to unmask the titular antihero’s daddy issues before it’s too late. Jobs finally figures out how to redeem his deadbeat-dad self in perfect sync with the scoring his last (and greatest) Apple coup, wherein Hoffmann has cause to tell him iMac sales are projected to break a million in their first week. (For whatever reason, this histrionic, win-big-or-bust quality permeates nearly every film with Boyle’s name on it.)
This process means inevitably realizing there’s no way Steve Jobs can’t culminate in a treatise on why America (allegedly) adores Steve Jobs. Hurdling toward its conclusion, Boyle’s film takes pains to solidify its antihero’s image in its most enduring—one could even say streamlined—form: emaciated, adorned in his signature black turtleneck, spotless sneakers, and rimless granny glasses. On a sun-kissed Cupertino rooftop parking lot, with milliseconds between him and the iMac unveiling, Jobs’s mad rush to finally take responsibility for himself allows for the teasing of a yet-unseen new product: The now-teenage Lisa (played here by Perla Haney-Jardine) is more than jaded to her father’s overpromising, until he begins bellowing to her that he’ll find a way to “put five hundred or a thousand songs in your pocket.” Even by its surprisingly upbeat denouement, it’s way too late to ask if Steve Jobs is a full-bore promotion of Apple’s corporate philosophy: In 2015, no utterance of Jobs’s name in public can be mistaken for anything else.
Universal’s Blu-ray transfer of Steve Jobs rises to the challenge entailed from the film’s use of 16mm, 35mm, and digital video by carefully rendering director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler’s diverse images and color palette, since each portion of the narrative’s boiling-point triptych boasts a new look. With the first, grain is almost overbearingly present, as are several noticeable (and intentional) white specks, interspersed throughout the frame like termites eating at the image. The era-specific use of film stock is fully embraced by the Blu-ray, making these "imperfections" even more apparent and in dialogue with Steve Jobs’s own dramaturgic irritations. If one mistakes these issues as unintended, the absolutely gorgeous blues and reds of the film’s second part—now wholly absent of perceptible defects—confirms the intent of Boyle’s visual choices. Likewise, the mix of Daniel Pemberton’s score hits with the nourishment of an electronic B12 shot, while sounds of footsteps and creaky doors receive equal leveling with dialogue. A technical tour de force, this Blu-ray boasts the A/V respect the film warrants.
Rather than forgoing meaningful supplements and quickly dumping Steve Jobs onto Blu-ray for a pre-Oscars release, Universal offers a disc that would pass inspection at any top-tier, prestige company on the market. Two audio commentaries—one with Boyle, the other with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham—cover a dizzying array of topics related to the film’s making, delving into all three stages of production with useful insights, as when Sorkin and Graham debate the decision to use the Arthur C. Clarke footage as the film’s opening. Sorkin says the scene wasn’t in his script, and he initially believed its inclusion would mislead audiences into thinking they were in store for a "cradle to grave" biopic. Graham argues the scene works as a reminder for younger viewers that computers used to fill entire rooms and that it provides audience members a chance to settle in and prep themselves to follow the rapidity of the opening dialogue. Neither is standoffish; in fact, the conversation sometimes dips into being co-congratulatory. But the passion each displays, along with Boyle’s often manic and enthusiastic talk, consistently reveals the apparent conviction behind the film’s construction. Similarly, an energetic 45-minute featurette vacillates between on-set footage and talking-head interviews. The detail here is thorough. When property master Chris Ubick details how she constructed the film’s rehearsal spaces, it would be reasonable to think the disc’s explanatory efforts are almost too meticulous.
In terms of A/V specs and supplemental materials, Universal’s electric Blu-ray treatment for Steve Jobs could go mouse to mouse with any Hollywood studio disc from the past year.