Pirates of Silicon Valley is an original 1999 TNT American drama film, directed by Martyn Burke and starring Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. Spanning the years 1971–1997 and based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine's book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, it explores the impact of the rivalry between Jobs (Apple Computer) and Gates (Microsoft) on the development of the personal computer.
Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) is speaking with director Ridley Scott (J. G. Hertzler), about the creation of the 1984 commercial for Apple Computer, which introduced the first Macintosh. Jobs is trying to convey his idea that "We're creating a completely new consciousness." Scott is more concerned with the technical aspects of the commercial.
Next in 1997 with Jobs, returning to Apple, and announcing a new deal with Microsoft at the 1997 Macworld Expo. His partner, Steve Wozniak or "Woz" (Joey Slotnick), is introduced as one of the two central narrators of the story. Wozniak notes to the audience the resemblance between "Big Brother" and the image of Bill Gates (Anthony Hall) on the screen behind Jobs during this announcement. Asking how they "got from there to here," the film turns to flashbacks of his youth with Jobs, prior to the forming of Apple.
The earliest flashback is in 1971 and takes place on the U.C. Berkeley campus during the period of the student anti-war movements. Teenagers Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are shown caught on the campus during a riot between students and police. They flee and after finding safety, Jobs states to Wozniak, "Those guys think they're revolutionaries. They're not revolutionaries, we are." Wozniak then comments that "Steve was never like you or me. He always saw things differently. Even when I was in Berkeley, I would see something and just see kilobytes or circuit boards while he'd see karma or the meaning of the universe."
Using a similar structure, the film next turns to a young Bill Gates at Harvard University, in the early 1970s, with classmate Steve Ballmer (John DiMaggio), and Gates’ high school friend Paul Allen (Josh Hopkins). As with Wozniak in the earlier segment, Ballmer narrates Gates' story, particularly the moment when Gates discovers the existence of Ed Roberts' (Gailard Sartain) MITS Altair (causing him to drop out of Harvard). Gates' and Allen's early work with MITS is juxtaposed against the involvement of Jobs and Wozniak with the Homebrew Computer Club. Jobs and Woz develop Apple Computer in the garage of Jobs' family home, with the help of Daniel (Marcus Giamatti) and Elizabeth (Melissa McBride). Eventually Mike Markkula (Jeffrey Nordling) invests in the company which allows it to expand and move forward. In 1977, Jobs, Woz, and Markkula demo the Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire. This event is followed by the development of the IBM-PC with the help of Gates and Microsoft in 1981.
The film also follows Jobs' relationship with his high school girlfriend and early Apple employee, "Arlene" (a pseudonym for Chrisann Brennan, portrayed by Gema Zamprogna), and the difficulties he had acknowledging the birth and existence of their daughter, Lisa. Around the time his daughter was born, Jobs unveiled his next computer, which he named, The Lisa. The Lisa was then followed in 1984 by the Macintosh, a computer inspired by the Xerox Alto. The main body of the film finally concludes with a 30th birthday toast in 1985 to Steve Jobs shortly before he was fired by CEO John Sculley (Allan Royal) from Apple Computer.
The film ends in 1997, with 42 year old Jobs' return to Apple (after its acquisition of NeXT Computer) and with his announcement at the MacWorld Expo of an alliance between Apple and Microsoft. It also indicates that Jobs is now married, has children, and has reconciled with Lisa.
Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs
Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates
Joey Slotnick as Steve Wozniak
John DiMaggio as Steve Ballmer
Josh Hopkins as Paul Allen
Gailard Sartain as Ed Roberts
Jeffrey Nordling as Mike Markkula
Allan Royal as John Sculley
J. G. Hertzler as Ridley Scott
Gema Zamprogna as "Arlene" (a pseudonym for Chrisann Brennan)
Brooke Radding as Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Marcus Giamatti as Daniel Kottke
Melissa McBride as Elizabeth Holmes
Pirates of Silicon Valley received an 89% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (8 positive and 1 negative reviews). Ray Richmond of Variety states that it is "a brilliant piece of filmmaking" and "a wildly entertaining geek tragedy with the stylistic feel of true art." John Leonard of New York Magazine, refers to Pirates of Silicon Valley as "a hoot." Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argues that the film is "a fascinating drama filled with Shakespearean twists and betrayals as viewers come to know the geniuses who transformed not only the way we communicate, but the way we live." Brian J. Dillard of AllMovie argues that "thanks to inspired casting and strong writing, this well-oiled TV biopic managed to transform the unglamorous genesis of the personal-computer industry into solid entertainment precisely at the moment when dot-com mania was sweeping the nation." Mike Lipton of People, found the film to be "engagingly irreverent" and "a real-life Revenge of the Nerds stands cheekily on its own