Sony to allow limited screenings of 'The Interview,' smaller theaters rebook

President Obama was correct to criticize Sony, and by extension the theater owners and distributors, for caving in to threats so quickly. The consequences open up other American businesses to extortion that would be very hard to combat.

Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Brandon Delaney, general manager of the Plaza Theatre, in Atlanta, Ga., finishes hanging the marquis Tuesday to announce that the theatre will be showing 'The Interview.' Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a limited Christmas Day theatrical release for the comedy that provoked an international incident with North Korea and outrage over its canceled release.

Reversing a decision it had made at the end of last week after every major film distributor and theater chain had backed out of showing the film, Sony Pictures has decided to make "The Interview," the Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un and came to be at the center of a hacking attack and threats of violence from sources the FBI has traced to North Koreaavailable for screening after all:

At least to some extent, this decision brings to an end what had turned into something of a public relations disaster for Sony that started when the president criticized the company for deciding to pull the movie, a criticism he did not back down from even when Sony pointed out that it had little choice in the matter when virtually its entire distribution chain had pulled out of deals to screen the movie starting on Christmas Day.

Balancing out the public relations side of the equation, of course, is the issue of the threat that there will be renewed hacking attacks, not just against Sony but also against the companies affiliated with the theaters that will show the movie. There are also the threats of actual violence directed at the theaters showing the movie, but it has never been entirely clear just how credible those threats actually are, and in any case one imagines that there will be stepped up security at the theaters where the movie will be screened as well as the corporate offices of the theater owner(s), just in case.

Overriding both of these concerns, of course, is the issue of the monetary hit that Sony would take from pulling the movie on a permanent basis. According to some reports, The Interview cost over $40 million and Sony’s total losses from shelving the movie permanently would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million, if not higher, including marketing costs. Given that, it’s not entirely surprising that the company would look for a way to get the movie out there in an effort to recoup at least some of its losses. The question now will be whether North Korea, or whomever has been running the hacking attacks on its behalf, will respond further.

While I can’t say I have any overriding desire to see this movie, or indeed anything else in the genre of comedies that it belongs to, it is good to see that it’s at least being released. President Obama was correct to criticize Sony, and by extension the theater owners and distributors, for caving in to threats so quickly. The only thing that doing so accomplishes is to send a message that such activity can be used to accomplish similar goals in the future. At some point, we have to agree as a society that responding that way to threats, whether it's from anonymous hackers or agents of a foreign government, simply isn't acceptable. The consequences otherwise are to open up other American businesses, if not the government itself at some point, to a 21st century version of extortion that would be very hard to combat or prevent. So, in that sense, I guess, good for Sony for letting the movie go forward.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

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