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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Blu-ray)
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // March 15, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Since his death in 2011, we've gotten not one, not two, but three movies about Steve Jobs. The first, Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher (who really does resemble the Apple co-founder), was a critical failure but managed a middling commercial performance in relation to its minimal budget. The third, Steve Jobs, was a much bigger hit with the critics, even landing star Michael Fassbender a well-deserved Oscar nomination, but flopped at the box office with a price tag twice as large as that of the first. (There was also a feature-length Funny or Die parody biopic starring Justin Long, if you want to count that.)

In between those two, director Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) tackled Jobs in a documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, which tries to determine what exactly the public loved about the tech giant, motivated by the outpouring of sincere grief after Jobs' passing. Unfortunately, despite a two-hour running time, Gibney struggles to come up with a satisfying answer. The film is a ponderous examination of the difference between Steve Jobs the legend and Steve Jobs the man, but Gibney doesn't seem to have enough access to really unearth anything interesting, digging little more than a few inches beneath the surface to explore what he was like when he wasn't on stage at an Apple presentation.

After opening with the public mourning Jobs' passing, Gibney jumps back to trace Jobs' rise to prominence chronologically, starting with his period at Atari, and into the development of the original Macintosh. After briefly skimming the period of time after Steve was ousted from Apple, Gibney dives back into the development of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone, before dedicating most of the film's second half to the general development of Apple as a company in the years leading up to Steve's passing. In between, he touches on Steve's love of Japanese culture and Zen meditation, and his relationship with his family (the film features an interview with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, mother of Jobs' daughter Lisa Brennan). Throughout, Gibney tries to use the interviews to extract some sort of philosophy or guiding principles that informed Jobs' decision-making and general attitude, but struggles to do so -- most instances of Jobs' irrational behavior aren't presented by interview subjects or in the form of archival footage, but by Gibney himself, acting as narrator.

Although there are fascinating asides throughout, they all feel as if they're coming from different films. Apple as a company is criticized for its treatment of workers at Foxconn, with a significant chunk of the movie devoted to the suicide of Sun Dan-yong, a factory worker who lost a prototype iPhone. Gibney also notes that under Jobs, Apple ceased philanthropic activities, and a portion touches on the tax evasion schemes and stock option backdating scandal (one of Gibney's go-to archival pieces is Jobs' filmed testimony). Although these bits question the saintly image Apple users may have had of Jobs (especially when contextualized with a TV interview in which Jobs comes off as somewhat glib in discussing the suicide rates in China), they feel like an indirect line on who he was as a person. In another section of the film, Gizmodo employees discuss the infamous incident where an iPhone prototype was left in a bar, and the site acquired and reviewed the device.

The parts of the film that work best are people discussing their personal interactions with jobs: Brennan, discussing meeting him and his behavior when he discovered she was pregnant; Steve's "spiritual advisor", Zen priest Kobun Chino Otogawa, whose story about Steve is presented in animated form; and Bob Belleville, head of engineering on the original Macintosh, who is brought to tears reflecting on how working for Jobs changed his life (it ended his marriage), and when reading the statement he wrote after Jobs' passing. It is easy to see the effect that Jobs had on these people, something that so much of the rest of the film doesn't quite convey. Many of the other interview subjects speak about Jobs in the abstract, rather than the personal. While it's commendable that Gibney searched for interview subjects outside of the norm (and it's possible that those subjects wouldn't have provided unguarded insight onto who Jobs was in private), it highlights the film's inability to get very close to the man himself. It's even highlighted by the title: in lieu of the man himself, Gibney can only try and access him through his creations.

The Blu-ray
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine keeps things simple: a photo of Steve's face adorns the cover, surrounded by black, with a splash of white and red text outlining the title. I imagine many designers would've been inclined to reference the white backdrop and specific font choices that Apple's own products use, but perhaps the designer felt that was the easy way out. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
As with any documentary, discussion of this Blu-ray's 1.78:1 1080p AVC-encoded image and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack are not going to be very interesting. The new interview portions with the film's various subjects are crisp and clean, imparting an impressive amount of detail and depth, while much of the rest of the film consists of archival material in varying degrees of quality, although most of the vintage interviews and footage featuring Jobs appears to be sourced from analog materials. The sound has little to deal with, other than the minor directionality of Gibney's voice coming from behind the camera during interview segments, and the separation of the music from said interviews. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
A couple of extras are included. 11 deleted scenes (31:13) are on offer, which are both extensions of interviews in the finished film, completely unused material, and what I would describe as alternate approaches to material, from a more directorial standpoint. Nothing too amazing, although there is one story at the end that's actually sort of nice. There is also a not-very-enlightening interview with director Alex Gibney (9:55) in which the director quickly runs down certain reasons for making the film and what struck him about his discoveries, as well as how he chose the subjects interviewed.

Trailers for Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, Experimenter, The Lady in the Car With the Glasses and a Gun, Synchronicity, and promos for Chideo and axsTV play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is also included.

Conclusion
Although there are segments of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine which are compelling and even moving (Belleville's segment in particular), it's hard to recommend this long and meandering movie as a whole. Gibney gets wrapped up in delivering a history lesson instead of digging deeper, and becomes sidetracked by issues that relate to Apple as a whole more than Jobs, even if they were mandates under Jobs' regime. In the end, there's a case to be made that Steve Jobs does a better job of conveying Steve Jobs than this documentary -- even though we must conclude, as Gibney does, that we may never really know. Rent it.


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