Film News

All Of This Over The Interview?: The Sony Hack’s Not Funny Anymore

UPDATE – Literally within minutes of me posting this article the headline came through that Sony has officially canceled the theatrical release of The Interview.  They pretty much had to once the top five theater chains decided not to play the film.

I see movies with my family on Christmas day. It’s just what I do, and I love it, a family tradition stretching back several years now. We caught Saving Mr. Banks and American Hustle back-to-back last year, Les Miserables the year before that, The Fighter a couple of years before that, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Marley Me even further back than that. This year, I have every intention of seeing Into the Woods and Big Eyes with Night at the Museum 3 slotted in as a more family-friendly back-up depending on who goes with me. I won’t be coming anywhere near The Interview, largely because after my lukewarm reactions to This is the End and The Neighbors I’ve concluded that Seth Rogen films are the kinds I’m better off renting than paying to see in theaters. However, my personal opinion of The Interview does not matter. If I go ahead with my normal Christmas tradition and the theater I attend just happens to also be showing The Interview I have to now worry about some kind of terrorist attack. Why? Because, to put it bluntly, this shit with Guardians of Peace’s hack of Sony Picture just got real.

Here’s the full message Guardians released to the media yesterday, grammatical errors and all:

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.
Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
The world will be full of fear.
Remember the 11th of September 2001.
We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.
(If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
All the world will denounce the SONY.

The pants-crapping officially set in pretty quickly after everyone read that. The Department of Homeland Security says there is no actual evidence of an active terrorist plot against United States theaters, yet Sony has moved swiftly, canceling The Interview’s New York premiere and informing nationwide theaters that it’s okay if they choose not to actually exhibit the movie when it opens Christmas Day. The National Association of Theater Owners is similarly leaving the decision up to the individual theaters, and the top five theater chains – Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment – have reportedly decided against playing the film. Regal explained its rationale in a statement released to The Hollywood Reporter, “Due to the wavering support of the film The Interview by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres.”

The Interview’s stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Evan Goldberg with an additional assist on the script from longtime Daily Show writer Dan Sterling, have now canceled all upcoming personal appearances. The interviews they had done to this point had just been awkward. Rogen is an actor, not a politician. What’s the difference, right? Well, a politician might be called upon to speak about matters of national or local security whereas an actor like Rogen just wants to make jokes. That’s what he was trying his best to do during his Colbert Report interview Monday night, but he appeared frazzled by the whole situation, his nervousness most evident in the way his signature, Beavis & Butthead-esque laugh lasted just a little too long after every joke, longer than normal for him.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-16-at-7.49.56-AM Who could blame the guy for not quite knowing how to handle this? Sony Pictures is pretty much being systematically dismantled all because Rogen probably remembered that time Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein right before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and thought, “What if the CIA had tried to turn Rather into an assassin, but instead of Rather it was a vapid airhead played by James Franco?” It’s actually not a terrible idea for a story, like a more comedic version of Frost/Nixon in which Frost intends to kill Nixon but somehow ends up finding him kind of lovable.   Plus, this past summer when North Korea first announced it viewed The Interview, which fictionalizes the assassination of its leader Kim Jong Un, as being an act of war the general reaction was to laugh them off. Oh, isn’t that adorable. North Korea’s getting bent out of shape over a silly little movie, pumping its chest and trying to scare us. It’s just a movie!

Now, the tide has turned, and all of Hollywood is looking at Sony Pictures Co-Chair Amy Pascal and wondering why in the world she brought all of this on herself over a silly little movie. As THR put it, “The Interview is a smallish comedy, with a budget of just $44 million, according to one veteran executive, ‘It’s not Christopher Nolan and Inception. Why create this level of exposure for yourself and your company?’” Sony’s employees are apparently wondering the same thing, filing two class action lawsuits against the company, with more likely on the way. One of the suits alleges that Sony directly put its employees in danger, all of whom have now had their social security numbers, medical histories, and salary information leaked online, when it decided to change the original script of The Interview to make the villain Kim Jong Un instead of a fictional leader. It’s fairly dubious as to whether or not that particular suit will get much traction in court, especially with North Korea officially denying any involvement with the hack, but people’s lives are being ruined by this whole thing. For example, a 31-year-old freelance accountant who worked on The Amazing Spider-Man is now unable to get any work in Hollywood after the hackers mysteriously hijacked her email address and released all of her personal data.

Of course, blaming Sony for making the movie in the first place is exactly what Guardians of Peace wants. The same goes for all of those news outlets which have been pouring through the gigabytes of stolen data, reading every single one of Amy Pascal’s hacked emails to uncover that one time she said something a little racist or admitted how little she cares for Leonardo Di Caprio. Stolen emails don’t mean anything if everybody decides it’s ethically wrong to read them, yet even I have apparently decided it’s okay to re-report summaries of stolen emails, be it about movie profitability or Spider-Man. Sony is threatening to sue the news media for not showing some restraint, especially outlets like The Daily Beast and Gawker which have in some cases actually posted clearly copyright-protected material. Now, The Interview is getting pre-emptively pulled from most theaters. That, again, is exactly what Guardians of Peace wants.

But I want to go see movies with my family on Christmas day. I hate that Sony maybe brought this on themselves a little bit, but I also hate how outsized the response has been, as the punishment being delivered by Guardians of Peace does not fit Sony’s crime of having simply been the people who made The Interview. I hate that I now have to hesitate, even if just for a second, before going to the movie theater on Christmas day if it is one which is also showing The Interview, yet I also hate that theaters are being bullied into not showing The Interview. The whole situation stinks.

Just out of curiosity, though, where was all of this outrage when Trey Parker and Matt Stone did this to North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police?

Or Jim Abrahams did this to Saddam Hussein in Hot Shots: Part Deux? (starts at the 3 minute, 35 second mark):

The point being The Interview is far from the first time a comedy has depicted a comedic death of a real life world leader (I’m assuming Un does die in The Interview).  Maybe there was similar outrage from the offended nations back then, and I simply don’t remember.  However, there sure as heck wasn’t an unprecedented, company-wide Wikileaks-esque hack in retaliation for Hot Shots or Team America.  We’d remember that.  Either way, after all of this it’ll probably a cold day in hell before another movie dares depict Kim Jong Un again.

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5 comments

  1. I don’t like any of this. Not at all. As a movie goer, this is not setting a good precedent. Yes, it is fair game that the theatres should pull out after that threat. What I don’t like is that essentially there is a group of people bullying us into saying you can’t watch that. Their success with this may only be the beginning. It worked and there’s not a doubt in my mind that it will be tried again. It’s happened with bomb threats at multiple schools I’ve been to. They don’t stop until the issuer gets bored because they realize they’ve gained power. Should there have been a bit more of a discussion before the movie was greenlit, yes. However, that’s in the past and it’s reached a point there it is bullies fighting with fear as their weapon. I don’t tempt fate or step on people’s toes, but this makes me more nervous than when the threats were first issued.

    1. Bullying is the first thing that came into my mind when I heard about this movie. It felt like the makers of this movie thought it was okay to mock North Koreans because they don’t have as much money or power as the American makers of this film.

      I think the Guardians of Peace (what an Orwellian name!) are wrong, but I also think it’s a very complex issue. Maybe it’s a good thing the dialogue is starting now.

      1. First of all, Guardians of Peace is apparently a reference to a phrase Nixon used to describe the United States when he was visiting South Korea much to North Korea chagrin. I just found that out. Thought I would share that.

        Overall, I agree with you to a point. The Interview is a movie clearly made in bad taste. According to the leaked emails, when they decided to make the villain the real life leader of North Korea there was some question raised as to whether or not that was going too far, but no one involved appeared to take it seriously, more laughing it off. When I first heard about this movie I did not think it sounded all that offensiv3, but then I stopped to wonder how I would feel if Russia made some comedy all about killing Obama. I would be pretty annoyed.

        So, I get North Korea being angry, and us coming off as having underestimated them and forgetting to display some degree of sensitivity. However, the punishment does not fit the crime. If North Korea felt like it was being bullied how exactly must Sony feel after the cyber attack and terrorist threat? They are being bullied right back, and the punishment absolutely does not fit the crime. All those random Sony employees, many of whom are just freelancers, most of whom had nothing to do with The Interview, did not deserve to have their social security numbers released online.

        Sony brought punishment on themselves, but the punishment has been so outsized that I am not really sympathetic to North Korea anymore assuming the FBI is right about North Korea being behind the attacks.

  2. This whole thing is really interesting. I think cancelling does set a bad precedent but i also understand theatre owners being nervous especially after the incident in Colorado for the Dark Knight.

    One thing i heard this morning is that Paramount has actually cancelled showings of Team America following this threat. A couple theatres that will show older movies had scheduled to show Team America and Paramount has pulled the film from being shown.

    I also read in one article that Sony got pressure to cancel from other production companies who were worried about the openings for their movies taking a hit because the threats for The Interview would keep people away from theatres in general.

  3. When I first heard about this movie, I thought, “how can one group of people think it’s okay to impose their way of thinking on another? This is just wrong.” That was about four months ago, before the hacking started. And then I thought “What idiot at Sony/Paramount thought is was a good idea to insult another country by blowing up their current head of government on screen?” Kim Jong Un is a horrible person (I’d even say monster given what the slave camps are like), but I still don’t think this film should have been made. If they wanted to do the idea as a joke, use a fictional leader.

    I was so angry back then, it’s hard to work up the outrage today. There’s a reason why Black comedians can say things about Blacks that would be considered racist if someone else said them, and why Jewish comedians can make fun of Jews but others don’t. Monty Python got away with what they did because they satirized their own society. I did some research on bullying when I was trying to get my daughter’s school to implement some policies on it, and the best programs say that whether it is bullying or not is defined not by the person doing the actions (the bully), but by the person who is the recipient. That whole movie was supposed to be a big joke, but it’s not to the Koreans..

    I understand the outrage and it’s absolutely wrong to threaten to bomb American theaters because you don’t like a movie, but I’m rolling my eyes too. If this had been a SNL sketch, something like either of the clips you posted, it would have been offensive but not this huge deal. But this is a movie, with a big promotional budget, and it was inevitable the North Koreans were going to be upset, even the ones who don’t like Un.

    Sony needs to take some responsibility for this mess. On ounce of empathy in the pitch room is worth a pound of pulling your movie.

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