Will we ever get to watch The Interview? Should we care?

Matthew Champion@matthewchampion
Thursday 18 December 2014 15:40

What is going on?

This week the hackers known only as the Guardians of Peace that have caused Sony Pictures so much difficulty threatened a 9/11-style terror attack if its film The Interview was shown in cinemas.

Within days the premiere of the comedy film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, had been cancelled, the largest five cinema chains in North America said they would not screen it, and now Sony has said it has no plans to release it in any region on any format.

So basically that's $42million (£27million) in production costs wasted.

What's the story behind the story?

Trouble first started in June when North Korea called the film - which sees two journalists played by Rogen and Franco co-opted into a CIA plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un - an "act of war". Then last month Sony fell victim to a massive hack of confidential data that saw embarrassing emails released and entire film scripts leaked.

North Korea officially denied any link to the hackers but described what they had done as a "righteous act", but the FBI now believes that Pyongyang was behind the attack, meaning the west had vastly underestimated the sophistication of the reclusive communist regime's cyber warfare capabilities.

The assertion that North Korea was behind the hack comes despite the hackers leaking a (spoiler alert!) clip of the violent death of Kim Jong-un (played by US actor Randall Park) in the film.

Was the threat credible?

The US department of homeland security said no: "At this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theatres within the United States."

Barack Obama, speaking to ABC News, said: "We'll be vigilant, if we see something that we think is serious and credible, then we'll alert the public. But for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies."

What's the reaction to Sony's move been?

The indefinite shelving of the film has been widely condemned in Hollywood and Washington DC.

Rob Lowe tweeted that the studio had effectively appeased North Korea while Judd Apatow said the move was "disgraceful".

Somehow, people like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have emerged on the right side of the argument.

"With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyber war. This is a very, very dangerous precedent. It wasn't the hackers who won, it was the terrorists and almost certainly the North Korean dictatorship, this was an act of war," Gingrich said.

"Sony should release The Interview online for free so North Koreans can't censor American creativity - and it should have a Korean language version."

Meanwhile, perennial Republican presidential candidate Romney managed to link the story to Ebola.

What does Sony have to say for itself?

Sony, presumably fatigued after weeks of fighting fires over a series of damaging leaks, said it was "deeply saddened" at having to pull the film.

Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale - all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like.

We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

Any other reaction?

A cinema in Dallas/Fort Worth said it would show Team America: World Police as a free screening instead of The Interview.

But in an example of the chilling effect such threats can have, New Regency quietly dropped plans for its own film set in North Korea starring Steve Carrell; Pyongyang, based on Guy Delisle's graphic novel about a westerner accused of espionage.

So, will I ever get to see the film?

Sony insists it has "no further release plans for the film", but this doesn't amount to confirmation that it will never be released.

While DVD and VOD releases have been ruled out at the moment, as well as any release outside of North America, it could feasibly still turn up on Netflix one day.

Is this a true tragedy for freedom of artistic expression?

The Interview will now become one of the most in-demand films in the world, precisely because no one can watch it. But based on reviews from press screenings so far, it has only a 47 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

And in leaked emails seen by Gawker, Sony's own executives worried the film was "desperately unfunny" with levels of violence that would "be shocking in a horror movie".

More: [Jennifer Lawrence hacked again, and it says a lot about Hollywood sexism]9