Sony Pictures made the announcement that it I'd withdrawing the film "The Interview" for theatrical release, following as it claims, threats of violence made against the company and theatre chains declining to show it on the basis that they might suffer a backlash.
The film apparently deals with a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim-Jong-Un and from what understand, this story is dressed up as a comedy.
It stars James Franco and Seth Rogen, neither whom I've heard of and given that the film was given a rating of MA15+, and that I don't go to the cinema much anyway, it would be odd of me to write about a film I'd have no interest in except that media has turned this into something of a free speech issue.
Admittedly my initial reaction to this when I first read about it was that this was a publicity stunt. After hearing that Sony has been the subject of hackers though, I'm not so sure of that now but it still seems plausible to me. We are talking about a movie company here. Their stock and trade is to sell fiction and unless there was some external investigation, I wouldn't put it past a movie production house to write this story and release it as fact.
Suppose for argument's sake that at some point in the future, Sony Pictures either does release the movie in cinemas or it goes straight to DVD and download. Before even a frame has been seen by the public, it already has a place in history. Sony Pictures can now expect to shift more units than they otherwise would have done if the film was a flop.
If this is legitimate though, then this all comes off as being insanely 'Murican in character. The fact that this is being framed in this light and that the narrative being told by the media is that Sony Pictures shouldn't bow to terrorists, is itself the stuff that Hollywood likes to trade in.
Allow me for a second to paint a different narrative - the boring one which doesn't sell newspapers.
What if this movie was the result of a chain of bad business decisions? Now even I'll concede that parody has been around for a very long time - Chaplain's "The Great Dictator" was a veiled parody about Hitler - but what if it was only at the end of all this that Sony Pictures has discovered a little thing called tact? Anyone who publishes anything for public consumption would do well to remember that whilst the right to free speech exists, it isn't absolute. I'm not even talking about the classic example of yelling "Theatre!" in a crowded fire either. Yes, free speech is hedged in by laws such as sedition, discrimination and defamation etc. but it is also hedged in by unwritten rules of decency. If you go around writing or publishing something which is likely to cause offence, then there will be people who are likely to be offended. Whilst there is no right not to be offended at law, there is also no defence if the offence you have caused, causes people to become angry and lash out. What if someone at Sony Pictures finally woke up from their stupor of groupthink and said "guys, this is a bad idea after all"? I know that I've often written things which don't make it past my own internal filter.
What if the more sensible story is that Sony Pictures in choosing to voluntarily withdraw the movie, did so on the basis of purely commercial reasons? That narrative is boring.
The Homeland Security Department says there’s no reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack U.S. movie theaters on Christmas Day as a protest against the Sony movie “The Interview,” despite threats from the Sony hackers.
A DHS official, speaking on condition of background, said the department is aware of a threat made Tuesday by the group that hacked Sony.
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“We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States,” the official said.
- Politico, 16th Dec 2014
Although the Department of Homeland Security doesn't seen to reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack movie theatres, perhaps the most scathing reason as to why the film is being pulled is that it's simply a bad movie:
North Korea can rest easy: America comes off looking at least as bad as the DPRK in “The Interview,” an alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.
- Scott Foundas, Variety, 12th Dec 2014
It's comments like this despite how the narrative of this debacle is being portrayed in the media that maybe just maybe, The Interview is a film which should be credited to Alan Smithee. Maybe the problem is that when you have a film which reportedly cost US $44 million to make, it might be incredibly hard to undo all the publicity. Blaming hackers and threats might be the cheapest option.