After all the hype leading up to the release of Jobs, the biopic of turtlenecked Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, the movie just couldn’t boot up. Despite opening wide in an impressive 2,381 theaters, the movie debuted at #7, banking only $6.7 million. Its underperformance has gotten us thinking. You know what would’ve been a much more interesting biopic? One on Steve Wozniak, the pudgy, bearded tech-wiz who built the original Apple I and Apple II computers before leaving Apple in the mid-80s following a plane crash to teach elementary school and eventually date Kathy Griffin and compete on Dancing With the Stars. He was played by Josh Gad in Jobs, but we feel he needs the spotlight himself. In fact, we so believe in the bankability of Wozniak’s life story that we’ve written our very own pitch for the movie. Here’s how it goes:
“You’ve never seen so much underwear thrown on stage until you’ve been to a Clay Aiken concert.”
Kathy Griffin pauses after finishing her Clay Aiken routine and points to a rotund, balding man who looks like a cousin to Gimli, Son of Gloin, sitting in the front row.
“And now I’d like to introduce my lover and partner in crime, a man who could buy and sell all of you a hundred times: Mr. Steve Wozniak.”
A close-up of Steve Wozniak shows him beaming like the mother of the bride. Smash cut to black, over which only the sound of someone taking a bite out of an apple can be heard. Fade in to a kitchen table in which a doughy hand places an apple with a sizable bite taken out of it. Over the Apple appears the title:
The Woz: Based on the Memoir iWoz by Steve Wozniak
35 years earlier, a young Wozniak writes line after line of indecipherable code on a blackboard, while his friend and Hewlett Packard colleague Steve Jobs, a moptopped burnout in shredded jeans, holds a beer on Woz’s couch and tells him about a contest he’s entered. He has to design a simplified circuit board that cuts down on the number of chips for the new videogame Breakout. Jobs doesn’t know squat about building a circuit board, so if Wozniak helps him he’ll split the prize money with him. Woz agrees, though he’s concerned that it’ll distract from his responsibilities to the Homebrew Computer Club. He swaps some Star Trek action figures to get the parts he needs and builds the circuit-board for Jobs. They win and Jobs collects $5,000 as a reward but tells Woz he only got $700, cheating him out of most of his share. (Yes, this really happened.)
That sets up Woz as our lovable schlub hero who has all of the genius but gets little of the credit. History may be written by assholes, but nice guys like Woz are the ones you root for. The whole Breakout circuit board experience makes Wozniak want to try his hand at building a personal microcomputer. We see him slaving away in his garage assembling circuits and chips in a montage set to Styx, as if he were Tony Stark in a cave somewhere assembling the Iron Man suit. He takes it to his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club who have made their own personal computers, and Woz’s is wildly superior. Jobs butts in again and says he wants to market it, but Wozniak isn’t really into that. He’s too much of an artist to prostitute his genius. But, as before, Jobs persuades him.
This time Wozniak sells his beloved HP scientific calculator to raise the money they need to market his computer, named the Apple I after his favorite snack. But he holds on to his beloved Gorn doll. Nothing will part him from that. He suggests selling the Apple I for $666.66 but is confused why buyers seem averse to that figure until his old friend Jobs tells him that number is the “mark of the beast.” Woz realizes this incident shows he may not have the marketing savvy necessary to make the Apple I successful, so he recruits Jobs to help him out once again. This time, they found Apple Computers. A Saving Lincoln-style knocking-on-doors montage shows them trying to sell it, and eventually they find a buyer who wants a large order for his story. That sets the stage for the Apple II.
Skip ahead five years and Wozniak and Jobs are now the toast of the computer industry. But a comical sequence in which Woz crashes his light aircraft begins his departure from the company. It makes him realize he has money but he’s not satisfied. So he leaves Apple, re-enrolls at UC Berkeley under the fake name Rocky Clark (named after his dog Rocky Raccoon and wife Candice Clark) and, after a sequence showing him totally owning his fellow computer science classmates, becomes a thirtysomething graduate. Time to go back to Apple.
Jobs doesn’t really want Wozniak around Apple, though. They have a shouting match that ends with Wozniak screaming “I am Apple!” and Jobs screaming “No, I am Apple!” Woz walks away and becomes a schoolteacher, teaching kids how to use computers. Years later, he's channel-surfing and stumbles upon a high-collared Jobs about to introduce the iPod. He flips to the next channel and sees Kathy Griffin performing her bit about Oprah's appearance on PBS' Colonial House. This time he doesn’t change the channel. Next, we see Steve and Kathy attending the Emmy Awards together as Woz, in voiceover, says “Orson Welles once said that Italy under the Borgias had decades of war and bloodshed but produced Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci. Switzerland had hundreds of years of peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock. Well, I’m here to ask, what’s so wrong with cuckoo clocks?”
Woz competing on Dancing With the Stars. He’s just gotten a 10 out of thirty for his Argentine Tango and Bruno Tonioli says, “You may have founded Apple Computer. But you look like you’ve eaten too many apple pies.” Woz laughs and shimmies off with his dance partner as his voiceover concludes, “Nice guys may not often finish first…but at least we can enjoy our lives.”
Now isn’t that a movie you want to see?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt