Remember when President Obama visited the United Kingdom in his first term and everyone got their pants in a twist because he gave Prime Minister Gordon Brown a boxed set of 25 classic American movies? The terrible gift actually highlighted what we all know: American culture is this country’s biggest export and source of soft power.
North Korea may not have the capability to send a missile to Times Square, but according to multiple reports attributing the Sony hack to the totalitarian regime, it was able to execute a different sort of damage. The Guardians of Peace, the group taking credit for the Sony hacks, electronically leveled an entire movie studio and thwarted the release of a film it said amounted to “terrorism.”
After multiple theater chains announced that they would not screen “The Interview” on its Dec. 25 release date, Sony abandoned the movie. This kicked off a number of industry-wide reverberations, some yet-to-be-seen. So let’s get down to the business of digesting the multi-headed hydra that is Sony’s” Interview” catastrophe:
While early reports Wednesday indicated Sony was mulling over possibilities of releasing the film through video-on-demand, the latest word is that idea has been tabled. The studio doesn’t even plan to release the movie on Blu-ray or DVD despite the fact it’s already been screened at a Los Angeles premiere and reviewed. That means a loss of at least $42 million — the cost of the film — plus tens of millions more spent on advertising and promotion.
“Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” the studio told Deadline Hollywood. Even if Sony was willing to sell rights to another distributor, it would need to find one willing to risk of attracting the ire of the Guardians of Peace. At this point, those who must see “The Interview” might just want to buy the thing from the neighborhood bootleg guy.
The Guardians of Peace invoked the Sept. 11 attacks, saying it would target movie theaters screening “The Interview”: “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.).”
The threats were not deemed credible.
“With respect to this specific case, we’re investigating it,” President Obama told ABC News Wednesday. “We’re taking it seriously. The FBI should have more information over the next several days about the suspected identity of the hackers and whether there was a state sponsor of it or not. We see no credible evidence though, of any threat to theaters or some sort of terrorist attack against theaters that are screening the particular movie at issue. We’ll be vigilant. If we see something, we think it serious and credible, then we’ll alert the public, but for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”
If theaters had agreed to screen the film, industry insiders worried fear surrounding the threats would depress Christmas Day revenues for other movies. That included other Sony films — for example, “Fury,” which has already been downloaded more than 1 million times since the Sept. 24 hack, and “Annie,” which bows Dec. 25.
Meanwhile, in the event of a mass shooting or other disaster, no theater wants to be sued.
“It’s much less of a big deal to pull the film than it is to risk something happening,” industry analyst Eric Wold said in a statement to Screenrant. “It makes no sense for a theater to choose to show this movie.”
All right. Sony, having been unprecedentedly and quite epicly pantsed, is on edge, with exhibitors right behind it. But one Texas theater is flipping North Korea the metaphorical bird.
The Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson, Tex., is not showing “The Interview,” but it is replacing the movie with “Team America: World Police,” the 2004 film by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. “Team America” bore Parker and Stone’s trademark irreverence and centered around stopping a terrorist threat by Kim Jong Il. The whole thing was a brilliant meeting of marionettes and ironic post-9/11 super-patriotism.
Way to combat Sony-triggered ennui, Alamo Drafthouse.
FOR THE RECORD: We were still going to show #TheInterviewMovie…
— Alamo Drafthouse DFW (@AlamoDFW) December 17, 2014
Steve Carell was supposed to be in a thriller called “Pyongyang,” which has since been scrapped, no reason given. “Pyongyang” was still in development, and hadn’t even begun shooting — that wasn’t supposed to start until March — but Carell appeared to voice his disappointment on Twitter. “Sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul,” he tweeted.
Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie. The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public — a story that was developing right in front of their eyes. My deepest sympathies go out to Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and everyone who worked on “The Interview.”
A bunch of industry types took to Twitter to voice their concerns about freedom of expression being trampled:
So SONY fight back by canceling The Interview, thus proving to the hackers that hacking & threats work very well? That may prove an error. — Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December 17, 2014
Most American movies about other countries are offensively jingoistic. The Interview trailer ONLY makes fun of us and our media. Hmm. — Joss Whedon (@josswhedon) December 18, 2014
The precedent of letting a nation state get away w cyber terrorism is 1 that will set the tone for anyone who wishes 2 suppress our freedoms — Josh Gad (@joshgad) December 18, 2014
Although some had decidely more humorous takes:
Man, “The Interview” better be pretty funny, cuz there’s no way I’m not watching it now. — Joss Whedon (@josswhedon) December 18, 2014
Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers. — Michael Moore (@MMFlint) December 17, 2014
Oh, hackers, one more thing – I lost like $180K on “Canadian Bacon”. Can u do the opposite of what u just did & get it back IN to theaters? — Michael Moore (@MMFlint) December 17, 2014