Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) pulls no punches in his portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs and his legacy. This probing and unflinching look at the life and aftermath of the bold, brilliant and at times ruthless iconoclast explores what accounted for the grief of so many when he died. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is evocative and nuanced in capturing the essence of the Apple legend and his values, which continue to shape the culture of Silicon Valley to this day.
Three. Over the last three years, we've seen three feature-length films dedicated to telling the story of iconic Apple frontman Steve Jobs. The first, 2013's 'Jobs,' was a low budget drama with Ashton Kutcher leading the cast. Despite being released just two years after Jobs' death, it never found an audience. The second, from Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin, was 2015's 'Steve Jobs.' But despite the critical acclaim and the fruitful limited opening, when it expanded wide, once again, a Steve Jobs drama couldn't find an audience. The third, which was the lesser known of the 2015 Steve Jobs films, was the documentary 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.' From Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning director of 'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' and 'Taxi to the Darkside,' you'd think that 'The Man in the Machine' would be the best of the three Steve Jobs pictures, but it's not even close
Gibney's telling of the true story of Steve Jobs' career kicks off by showing the effect that his death had on the public. It shows people mourning at candle-lit vigils, YouTube videos of iPhone aficionados professing their love of all things Apple and a Instragram tribute images dedicated to the man. This opening immediately piqued my interest as it started to discuss the public's misconception of what he did and who he was. Unfortunately, the film's dissection of Jobs' life doesn't stick to the supposed theme and never differentiates between the man and his career. In his narration, Gibney explains his goal to explore the driving force that caused the public to adore him, but it doesn't come close to forming an information-based conclusion there.
Have you ever seen a documentary that tells a tale through the eyes of pedestrian characters that were somewhat connected to it, but not at all central players within it? That's how 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' plays out. Throughout the whole film, there's only one interview subject that had a strong connection to both Apple and Jobs; the others entirely feel like straws that the filmmakers were clinging to while trying to land interviews. Instead of hearing from Jobs' programming equivalent, Steve Wozniak, or the mother of his daughter, Chrisann Brennan, we hear from a random product manager that Jobs once supposedly cussed out and threatened in private.
Boyle and Sorkin's 'Steve Jobs' tells three fictional stories to paint an accurate portrayal of Jobs' personality and career highlights. Despite being contrived, it manages to tell every aspect of Jobs' career that's also covered in 'The Man in the Machine' with the exception of one: the federal investigation surrounding Jobs' shady transfer of backdated stock options. Aside from that, if you've seen the most well known of the Steve Jobs movies, then don't bother with Gibney's doc because there's no new content within it.
Perhaps the biggest offender in 'The Man in the Machine' is the lack of structure. There's no fluidity to it. For example, while Jobs' transition from Apple to his own project, Next, was a major aspect of his career, it's mentioned, but never explained. The movie may focus on important event, then jumps to another story, only to return to the first event and never bridge the connection between it and the splintered story.
Having an Oscar on his mantle, you'd think that director Alex Gibney would be better than this, but 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' is a muddled mess. It doesn't conclude the message that it sets out to tell. It doesn't even take a finite angle on its perspective. It paints Jobs in a praiseworthy light at times, only to go back on itself by tossing slanderish acuisation against him. It's wishy-washy. There's no direction in its narrative. Instead, it tells whatever random and disconnected Steve Jobs stories that its third-tier characters just-so-happened to be around for. Just because the Oscar-winning 'Going Clear' filmmaker made the career of Steve Jobs his latest subject, it doesn't mean that it's remotely worth watching. If you've had any desire to see it, scrap that idea and stick with Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin's much more worthwhile version.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' on a Region A BD-50 disc that's housed in a standard blue Elite keepcase. True to Magnolia's typical design, the pre-menu content on the disc includes a forced Magnolia reel and a content disclaimer prior to skippable trailers for 'Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of National Lampoon,' 'Experimenter,' 'The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun' and 'Synchronicity.'
'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' arrives on Blu-ray with a great 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Keep in mind that the ratio may adjust with that of the archival footage. Considering that a lot of content comes from 1980s video tape footage, the earlier periods portrayed explored in the film feature a lot of 4:3 content.
Let's start with the archival footage. As expected, there are a lot of Blu-ray no-nos throughout the documentary: aliasing, crushing, noise, artifacts, bands and lack of clarity/resolution; however, each of these flaws is inherent with the aged footage. It's to be expected. There's no way around it.
Fortunately, the deeper we get into the film, the more recent the footage becomes. The earlier standard-def footage starts to appear less and less as it moves into the high-def age of digital content.
The new interview content and the B-roll footage shot for the documentary bring us up to the high quality that we expect from new films. It's entirely crisp and clear. Sharp details are always present. Fleshtones are natural. Colors are vibrant. Black levels are consistent. No bands, aliasing, noise or artifacts appear.
'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that, like the video content, shows the age and degradation of the archival footage's quality. Some of the archival footage features audio that's blown out and distorted. In some instances, it's so damaged that it's difficult to understand.
The quality of the audio during new interview footage is perfect. The vocals are absolutely clear. Considering how good it is, it's surprising that Gibney's narration comes across as quiet. The overall tone of his narration is subtle and thought-inspiring, so perhaps the decision was made to lowly level his narration - but no matter the reason for it, the volume is so low that it's unmistakably lacking. Between this and the distorted nature of the old footage, the ideal viewing setting would be one without any background noise.
'The Man in the Machine' features a nice and fitting little score that's composed of '80s computer sounds and the decade's trademark synthesizer tones. The score is nicely mixed throughout the channels. It's had a dynamic range and pleasantly pops around all the space.
If you're clueless, uninformed, or have no opinion whatsoever on Steve Jobs and want to understand the fascination and praise that the former Apple frontman earned from his followers, then look elsewhere. Although the intro to 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine' initially pitches itself as the exploration of those details, it certainly doesn't follow through. Without jumping to any sort of coherent conclusion, it bounces back and forth in its opinions and portrayals. At times, it paints Jobs as a visionary genius who added to the human experience. At other times it makes him out to be a purely white collar criminal. It's a mess. Both the video and audio qualities vary based on the age of the source content, which is to be expected; the older it is, the more damaged and it is, while the most recent content is superb. A couple decent special features are included, but neither of them make the film any better. If you're interested at all in exploring the life of Steve Jobs, then stick to Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin's version starring Michael Fassbender.