The Dec. 25 comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as TV show types asked to assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, got yanked from its theatrical release by Sony after hackers threatened to target theaters, 9/11 style, playing the film.
It’s merely the latest fallout from the Sony Pictures hacking debacle, but the most serious by far. The repercussions from the film’s cancellation are still being felt, but here are five lessons we’ve learned already:
- We’re in Uncharted Territory: The shooting assault on an Aurora, Colo. theater in 2012 shocked the nation. The mere threat of a terrorist-style attack on any theater showing “The Interview” forced five major movie chains to refuse to screen the movie. Nothing remotely like this has ever happened before.
- Team Rogen Is Clueless: Seth Rogen, the star and co-writer of “The Interview,” didn’t see any fallout from a movie showing the death of a real-life dictator? Really? People see a movie and start humming songs from its soundtrack as they leave the theater. They buy the merchandise attached to the film. Sometimes, they even change their voting plans based on its content. Films can move the cultural needle in any number of ways. And when you make a movie mocking a hard-line dictator with nukes, chances are said dictator might get sore. Free speech sometimes comes with an asterisk, and responsible filmmakers should consider what might happen if their artistic vision is let loose.
- VOD’s Big Break?: Some film executives want to test what would happen if a first run, mainstream movie was made available via Video on Demand the same day it hits theaters. The comedy “Tower Heist” might have been the perfect test case, but a major theater chain protested the release strategy and those plans got scuttled. Now, “The interview” could be given a VOD distribution since theaters won’t go near the film. What other choice does Sony have? If the film does big business via home delivery, it might twist a few arms in Hollywood to let other films go that route.
- A Precedent Has Been Set: What happens in 2016 when a radical political group spots a documentary painting its preferred candidate in a negative light? Will they threaten violence to make sure the movie doesn’t reach theaters, even if they have no intention of following up on their threat?
- Freedom of Speech Got KO’d: It didn’t take long for another film touching on North Korea to get scrapped. Steve Carell’s untitled thriller set in the communist nation is no more. The actor sent out the following, simple statement via Twitter in response:
Sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul
— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) December 17, 2014