The Interview upshot and aftermath
No World War III yet
In August 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment had already slotted their newest James Franco-Seth Rogen vehicle for an October 2014 release when they bumped it to Christmas in order to re-edit the film. But why re-cut it? The film centered around an ambitious producer (Rogen) and his idiotic talk show host (Franco) travelling to North Korea in order to interview the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, a huge fan of the talk show. The plot involved Franco’s Dave Skylark assassinating Un during the course of the trip to the country, and SPE wanted to reduce the insensitivity to North Korea (Kim Jong-Un notwithstanding).
After a whirlwind, disastrous December that saw movie theater chains nationwide and Sony Pictures Entertainment each receive threats of another “9/11” from a group of hackers calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace,” the controversial comedy motion picture The Interview eventually was available to stream on YouTube, X-Box, Google Play, and other platforms for American audiences on Christmas Day. Even Apple eventually relented and made the movie available for streaming on the 28th. While the large theater chains decided to keep their stance firm, a few smaller theater chains decided to screen the film like Alamo Drafthouse. So far, The Interview only has a limited release and SPE hasn’t commented as to whether or not they will eventually go forward with a nationwide theatrical release. It’s unlikely that the film will ever get a wide release after it already made over $15 million dollars in online sales. It’s probable that these were the audiences who intended to catch the film in theaters initially and ended up confined to the home theater experience. The movie also garnered $2.8 million in ticket sales at a meager 300 venues—it was set for an original 2,000-plus.
These hackers (now most-recently believed to be Russian) didn’t get exactly what they asked for, but they certainly managed to cut into Sony’s profit on the film. It’s believed that The Interview was ripped/ torrented/ downloaded almost as many times as it was legitimately rented—a staggering figure when one considers the direct correlation to a film making its budget back. It’s not even that The Interview necessarily warrants a sequel—the bottom line is that going forward it will strain the funding of potentially controversial motion pictures if the idea of a cyber threat looms heavily on the minds of studio heads. Even though these hackers didn’t want the film to see the light of day (despite that it already had a few screenings by the time their threats began), the aftermath of a VOD release meant it would be easily available online for download and subsequently cut into the profit. Plus, the people who rented it legitimately only paid one flat rate—there wasn’t a ticket charge for every person watching the movie in any given room.
It has been said by the talking heads that the United States of America lost the first cyber war. These statements came in the week between Sony cancelling The Interview and then un-cancelling it. As we now know, The Interview was made available eventually and people watched it in droves. That certainly doesn’t sound like a country that lost a cyber war—perhaps these talking heads spoke too soon? After all, it was never a done deal if Sony still had copies of the film for distribution. The hackers could never claim victory as long as a print of the film existed. If anything, the war was between hackers and theater chains. Maybe we can just say these hackers fired the figurative first shot, but to say they won a cyber war is asinine. Numbers don’t lie—the Guardians of Peace didn’t want The Interview available for the masses, yet that’s exactly what happened.
Perhaps more people caught the film after the hubbub of controversy than if these hackers had let well enough alone for their part. The Interview plays out like one would expect a comedy lead by Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet, Knocked Up) and James Franco (the Spider-Man trilogy, 127 Hours) would play. The two actors have appeared on screen together for decades—beginning in 1999 with “Freaks and Geeks.” After last summer’s equal parts hilarious and ridiculous This is the End, shouldn’t audiences have learned to take their brand of humor with a grain of salt? Obviously, Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg never intended to start a cyber war or any war. After eighteen years of Trey Parker taking animated digs on “South Park” or puppeted digs in Team America: World Police, would any American familiar with pop culture expect a war that began in Hollywood? It stands to reason that it would have happened by now.
President Obama blaming and criticizing Sony for pulling the film may have been the messiest angle of the controversy. It was so clear and obvious that he or the misinformed people who brief him had no idea of the hierarchy or process. It was the major theater chains that first declared their intention to not show the film. SPE didn’t have much of a choice after this action as there was no precedent for this type of scenario in the past. On top of all of this, the Guardians of Peace had already leaked several Sony films for online download and were making the studio’s emails public. Blaming Sony was all-too-easy and it’s inane for any country’s leader to not gather all the facts before pointing the finger and playing the blame game. What was Sony to do? Build hundreds of their own theaters in a matter of weeks?
The Interview has received comparisons to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. The filmmaker’s masterpiece came out as Hitler was invading Europe in 1940—Chaplin was looking for American aid and involvement in the war and didn’t see it until December 7, 1941. Rogen and Goldberg certainly haven’t actively campaigned to go to war—in fact, the film involves a covert assassination plot so as to specifically avoid warfare. But, as comedies often do, the plot doesn’t go exactly as planned for the characters involved. Rogen has admitted to knowing that bootlegs make it into North Korea, saying to Rolling Stone magazine in their December 17 issue, “Maybe the tapes will make their way to North Korea and cause a revolution,” and, “At best, it will cause a country to be free, and at worst, it will cause a nuclear war. Big margin with this movie." Chaplin’s movie, also, wasn’t about an American character directly killing a foreign leader. In fact, one could make the argument that The Great Dictator was certainly more informative about and harmful to Hitler and shed light on what he was doing for the masses to understand. The Interview merely picks on some of what we already know about Un and adds fictional flaws (like a weakness for Katy Perry and margaritas) to make light of the dictator.
At the end of the day, who can blame Rogen, Franco, and Goldberg for making The Interview? They live a country where expression is free and not regulated. They’re merely satirists who got bored of making comedies about sex, getting high, and partying. In the same Rolling Stone article, Rogen even said, “"Are we gonna just make movies about trying to get laid over and over again or focus on something that's more relevant?" Certainly Rogen created something far more relevant than Pineapple Express or Knocked Up with The Interview—a film just as raunchy and crude as the actor/ filmmaker’s previous work with an added measure of purpose. It’s 2015 today and so far there has been no retaliation since The Interview went live. In fact, copies of the film will be dropped in DVD format into North Korea.
On the other hand, who can blame theaters for pulling the film? The hackers promised a “9/11” and gave no other description. After the Aurora, Colorado, shootings that happened during a midnight preview of The Dark Knight Rises, or the Florida shooting during a Lone Survivor viewing, how can any movie theater adapt to threats without first taking a major look at revising cinema safety and security regulations nationwide? It’s time Americans weren’t taking a gamble with their lives when catching a flick.