A Canceled Interview

This Saturday, one of my blog posts would have been a box office prediction for The Interview, the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy in which they play journalists tasked by the U.S. government to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

So… that’s not going to happen. You may have heard of this movie in the last 24 hours or so. The recent Sony Pictures cyber attack that’s been garnering headlines all over the world has led to threats against any movie theaters screening the picture, which was scheduled to premiere on Christmas Day.

Sony Pictures made the unprecedented decision to pull The Interview from theaters after several large theater chains chose not to show it, due to safety concerns. I’ll leave it to smarter folks than I to pontificate on all the ramifications here. The best I can do is offer my brief insights.

First thought: we are truly in uncharted waters here. There have been plenty of controversial movies, but we’ve never seen anything like this. Here we have a major studio offering that will likely never see the light of day in major theaters. And it’s mainly due to the fact that a fascist dictator can’t take a joke.

The irony is thick, to say the least. The Interview purportedly deals with the issues of Jong-un’s reign in North Korea, albeit in humorous and low brow comedy fashion. It probably deals with his lack of allowing free speech in that territory.

And yet the actions of these hackers (allegedly stemming from the country he controls) has eliminated the free speech rights that our country was founded upon. It’s hard for me to come up with any other argument than this: the hackers won and they’ve set a precedent that is dangerous.

Threats against this nation are nothing new. Threats against movie theaters that dare to show Seth Rogen and James Franco satirizing North Korea… well, that is a new one. It begs the once ridiculous sounding question: what if a group of cyber terrorists decide they don’t want to see Fifty Shades of Grey in February? What if a dangerous faction somewhere in the world makes claims of action if we go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens a year from now?

Trust me, I’m no expert on security issues. However, I’m rather sure our government and financial centers of institutions are threatened on a very regular basis. We don’t stop going to them. And yes – our movie theaters are our entertainment centers of institution.

I have no idea whether The Interview is any good (early reviews indicate not, but there’s a lot of talent involved). The action taken yesterday guarantees one thing (security and political arguments aside) – the picture will be seen by a lot of folks who might not have intended to watch it originally. The term all publicity is good publicity should apply here. My guess is a VOD or Netflix type premiere will happen relatively soon and it will be massively successful.

The decision that faced the owners of theater chains and Sony Pictures forced them into an incredibly unenviable position. Still, my reaction is similar to many I’ve seen in the media. This just doesn’t feel right. We have a right to free speech in this nation. This covers everything from key political speech to the words written in a screenplay and filmed for a sophomoric Seth Rogen Christmas holiday release. And we should never feel compelled to surrender those rights to those who wish us harm.

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