When screenwriter Aaron Sorkin started to write a script based on Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's authorized biography about the Apple co-founder, I imagine that it was a heavy order. Have you seen how big that book is?! There are 42 chapters and 656 pages illustrating the life of the late Silicon Valley Godfather. But if anyone was going to be the one to write about it, I'm not surprised it was Sorkin, the master of quick-paced yet expository dialogue. Let me put it this way: if I were to have someone write a screenplay based on my life, I would want Sorkin to do it. But like all movie adaptations of biographies, Sorkin had to cut a lot out when adapting the book, as otherwise, the movie probably would be six hours long. So yes, Steve Jobs is different from the book, in some pretty significant ways.
First of all, there's the structure. Instead of trying to cram in all of the details from the book into the movie, Sorkin made the wise decision to put the focus on three major points in Jobs' career: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. This makes for a condensed look at crucial moments in his life rather than a light meandering through his various experiences.
Unsurprisingly, the movie leaves out a lot. The book seems to have been more of a jumping off point and a blueprint for the screenplay, which makes sense, as there are some chapters that work better as literature rather than compelling cinema. Isaacson's book goes into everything: his days as a college dropout, the making of the Apple I & Lisa, the invention of the iPhone, and Jobs's involvement in the rise of Pixar. Although some of those plot points would have been interesting to see on screen, the movie would have been too long for viewers' well-being. Plus, other movies about Jobs have tried to incorporate all those details, but in the end, they didn't contribute much cinematically.
Sorkin was clever enough to choose what he wanted to incorporate into the movie with a discerning eye to make it a solid, bullet-pointed story that supplements the book. It isn't a word-for-word adaptation, which is for the best. Think of it as a "greatest hits" of Isaacson's book. Much of the biography provided information and dialogue for the movie. In one scene in Steve Jobs, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and Sculley (Jeff Daniels) discuss the former's adoption, which can be associated with the chapter titled, "Childhood, Abandoned and Chosen." There are also, of course, chapters about the launches of the Macintosh, NeXT Cube and the iMac, as well about Jobs' rise and fall and rise again as Apple's CEO. There is even a line that is heard throughout the movie — "a dent in the universe" — taken straight from the title of Chapter 15, "The Launch, A Dent in the Universe."
In an interview with Wired, Sorkin said that when he was first approached to adapt the screenplay, he was nervous and shaky — but decided to do it anyway. He not only relied on Isaacson's text, but also met with key players in Jobs' life including Steve Wozniak, Joanna Hoffman, John Sculley, and Jobs's daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was a major component in the chapter "Chrisann and Lisa, He Who Is Abandoned." Their relationship is an emotional pulse throughout the movie.
"I’m the father of a daughter too, and it was hard for me at first to get past Steve’s treatment of his daughter—the denial of paternity and so forth," Sorkin told Wired. "But what started out as this huge obstacle became a great engine for writing the movie, because Steve would find his way to being a father, which was great."
Sorkin combined what was in the book with his interviews to create some of the movie's most memorable scenes. One, for example, shows Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) talking to Jobs before the launch of the NeXT Cube, and was inspired by conversations Sorkin had with those who knew Jobs. "The other thing is what we hear Seth Rogen say in the trailer: 'What do you do?' Where is the evidence of genius from Steve Jobs?" Sorkin told Wired. "There’s the success, I get that, but I’m not getting what it is that Steve did. It was in talking to Lee Clow and Woz and Andy Hertzfeld and all these people that I began to get an idea of it. But I also liked that question being asked."
Yet despite being a very intriguing scene to watch, those exact words were possibly never actually spoken by Wozniak. In an interview with Bloomberg, Jobs' partner in crime said, "I don't talk that way. I would never accuse the graphical interface of being stolen. I never made comments to the effect that I had credit [genius] taken from me." Yet even though Wozniak said he didn't directly speak those lines, he said that they aren't far off from what he was thinking. Added the tech pioneer, "The lines I heard spoken were not things I would say but carried the right message, at least partly. I felt a lot of the real Jobs in the trailer, although a bit exaggerated."
The movie may not be 100 percent accurate, and neither is the book, most likely. Yet from Wozniak's comments and more, it seems that the film, at least, did a respectable job in adapting Isaacson's novel and keeping Jobs' spirit alive.
Images: François Duhamel/Universal Pictures, Giphy (3)