The Interview saga, Part II

John Cairns

Well, every bad news story deserves a sequel, just as every bad movie seems to get a sequel whether we want one or not.

Much has happened since my last column about The Interview. A week or so ago, Sony had officially pulled the worldwide Christmas Day release of The Interview from every theater that was going to show it, over a terrorism threat from the cyber hackers who had infiltrated Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. The decision from Sony came soon after cinema chains, one by one, pulled the Christmas Day release from their theatres in fear of retribution.

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According to the United States, the hacking was definitely the work of North Korea, who had loudly taken issue to the unflattering portrayal of their fearless leader Kim Jong-un in the movie. 

But it gets better.

North Korea also took issue with the accusation that their regime was behind the hacking. They claimed they didn’t do it, and made a laughable offer to assist in the investigation to get to the bottom of who did do it. The United States ultimately decided they didn’t need any of North Korea’s assistance in the matter.

Add to that the massive Internet outage woes that affected North Korea in the days that followed, which prompted threatening rhetoric from North Korea about how the United States was responsible for this outage, calling it an act of war.

Folks, can you believe all this nonsense? It may be 2015, yet our world is still full of rogue regimes led by crazed despots threatening the stability of the world. You have to wonder how folks in South Korea have been able to put up with their northern neighbours and their antics day after day. Who can live like this?

No wonder there were people out there interested in making a movie ridiculing the leadership of North Korea.

Anyway, in the days that followed news that The Interview was pulled from release, Sony Pictures were absolutely pummeled on social media, not to mention regular media. The consensus expressed by Americans was that it was a “sad day for freedom.”

President Barack Obama waded into the controversy, saying Sony “made a mistake” pulling the movie in the wake of the hacking scandal.

Obama’s comments may have made a difference in convincing some of these nervous theatre owners to screen The Interview after all, because soon after Sony announced plans to release the movie Dec. 25.

It should be noted, however, the revised “release” was not the wide release that was planned for upwards of 3,000 screens. Instead, it was a patchwork limited release schedule on some 331 screens, mainly independent theatres not affiliated with the major chains that pulled the movie in the first place.

Notable as well was a major release using digital technology. This is something Hollywood had been reluctant to embrace until now, as theatres remain the preferred method of distribution for wide releases.

But with so many theatre chains refusing to screen The Interview out of fear of a terrorist attack, Sony had little choice. They had to embrace a digital release if they wanted this movie to see the light of day. 

The movie was streamed on YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and by a little-known site called Kernel.

As it turned out, Kernel powers Sony’s own site seetheinterview.com. This prompted some pundits to speculate this might have been Sony’s plan all along, to pull the movie from wide release in order to gain attention for its own streaming efforts.

I can’t believe this was ever their intention. That would be like saying this whole embarrassing hacking mess was Sony’s plan, too. The end result of all this is that Sony’s stock went up. Go figure.   

So the movie did get a release on Christmas Day after all. But not in Saskatchewan.

It figures. We really still are the boondocks, despite what some people would have us believe.

The closest theatre that showed the movie on Christmas Day was in Williston, N.D. of all places. In fairness, the rest of Canada was also shut out, so everyone in Canada was reduced to crossing the border. Canadians did not have digital access to the movie either. So much for freedom!

Given the heavy involvement of Canadian writers, cast and crew in this production, as well as the shooting location (Vancouver), this made no sense.

However, the situation has since changed. Canadians are now able to view the movie digitally on Kernel’s site called seetheinterview.com. As well, Saskatchewan residents are now able to view The Interview in theatres. The Roxy theatre in Saskatoon, with the independent Magic Lantern/Rainbow Cinemas chain, booked the movie starting Jan. 2. It’s all part of a limited release of the movie throughout Canada.      

As of Dec. 31, The Interview made $1.8 million in its first weekend in limited release, and has  made a grand total of $3.1 million in theatres. Its digital release, however, has earned a more impressive $15 million.

Sony pulling the wide release and then reinstating it, is not a bad thing. It’s better than “zero.” which is exactly the amount of money The Interview would have made if it stayed on the shelf unscreened.

People are now calling this a victory for “digital technology.” I thought this was supposed to be a victory for freedom and democracy. Oh, well.

The bottom line is this dumb-looking movie starring funnymen Seth Rogen and James Franco has turned out to be far more important and groundbreaking than even the makers intended.

These guys probably thought this would be simply a funny satire about a despot. I don’t think they expected this to turn into any sort of statement about freedom of expression, or to be groundbreaking in the way Hollywood uses digital technology to release movies to a wide audience, or any of that.

All this was achieved by a movie that, at the end of the day, received only a so-so 52 per cent “rotten” score at Rotten Tomatoes from the movie critics, many of whom were revolted by the usual toilet humor they saw from Rogen and Franco.

By all rights, this apparently boring piece of junk ought to have flopped on its own merits. Executives at Sony even described their own movie as “desperately unfunny,” according to emails that were leaked.

Instead, because of the hacking and all the controversy, this “desperately unfunny” production of The Interview has achieved far more prominence and attention than it probably deserved.

A word of advice to all cyber hackers, the next time a movie comes along that you don’t want people to see, you’re better off reacting with a simple, restrained “thumbs down.”

Just like the Romans used to do.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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