Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Social Network, reviewed

Congratulations to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for his adaptation of Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires into a film that came off better than expected. Having read the book this past summer I was eager to see how it would be translated to the silver screen. The opening dialogue before the credits set the tone and immediately raised my expectations.

The film's description at imdb.com goes like this:
On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

There are five main characters in this story. First, there's Mark Zuckerberg, the central player in the drama that is Facebook. Then there is Eduardo Saverin, his initial partner in the venture that became TheFacebook. The Accidental Billionaires appears to be Eduardo's sour grapes at being ex-communicated from the Facebook venture as it took off and left him behind. Then there's the Winklevoss twins, who in the book come off as the typical Harvard stereotype, rich family, connected, spoiled. And finally, we have the Silicon Valley smoothie Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake.

The story is essentially told in retrospect. All the main characters and their lawyers and in a large board room, gathered for a deposition to determine whether Zuckerberg and Saverin stole Facebook from the Winklevoss twins, and if so how much are they owed. According to Wikipedia, the Winklevosses got 66 million dollars for their part. Evidently this is how much an idea is worth, even when you really do not do anything. Zuckerberg recognized the power of the idea immediately and made it the focus of his life, unlike the rest of these characters who were also trying to be students and Olympians and the rest. Zuckerberg alone put aside all distractions and was thus open to the opportunity to capitalize on what he found.

Sean Parker, who co-founded Napster and Plaxo, became the lynchpin connecting the idea to the funding that enabled Zuckerberg to take his concept to the next level. The rest, as they say, is history, though I've been told Zuckerberg will himself probably write his own version of that history at some point, and he has the means to do it if he wishes. I recommend he wait five years and let his perceptions percolate. My opinion is that the film was probably a caricature to some extent but that the screenwriters were kind, pulling their punches when they could have been far more cruel had they wanted to be.

In some of the reviews at imdb.com the soundtrack gets high praise though frankly until the closing credits I did not even notice the soundtrack. I must have been engaged in the story. That closing number by the Beatles, however, is a perfect punctuation mark for the end of this story. I will not spoil it for you here. It did make me smile.

It's an amazing story and the rest is yet to be written. All these characters are still very young men. They have whole lives ahead of them. What contributions will each make as they grow in influence? At what point will they begin to take their wealth and shed it to help fight Third World poverty, fund cancer research, etc.? No question they got rich quick. Now what?

As for Facebook itself, over 70% of Americans have logged on, and at least 20% are on Facebook daily. 48% of young Americans get their news through Facebook, whatever that means. Can you believe it... 750 million photos were uploaded to Facebook over New Year's weekend. 48% of 18 to 34 years olds check Facebook first thing when they get up, and 28% use their Smart Phones to do it while they are still in bed.

As for the film, it's worth the price of admission, and evidently got recognition at the Golden Globes this past weekend. I'm sure we'll hear more as we approach the Oscars.

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