LOS ANGELES, USA – Hollywood studio Sony Pictures on Wednesday, December 17, abruptly canceled the December 25 release date of The Interview, a parody film which has angered North Korea and triggered chilling threats from hackers.
It announced the decision after the majority of US theater chains said they would not screen the film, about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
The dramatic action came as several US media outlets reported that investigators now believe North Korea was behind the devastating cyber-attack that saw hackers gain access to a trove of internal Sony documents and unreleased movies.
Representatives for several agencies including the FBI declined to comment on the reports.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our (theater) exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the… theatrical release,” it said in a statement.
“We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers,” it added.
Regal, AMC and Carmike theaters were among US chains who had said they would not show the madcap movie. A red-carpet premiere scheduled for this week at New York’s Landmark chain’s Sunshine Cinema had also been canceled.
In Canada, the Cineplex Entertainment chain had also said it would cancel the Christmas Day release.
9/11 attack threat
Skittishness about attending the movie followed threats by the so-called GOP (Guardians of Peace) hacking group, which invoked the September 11, 2001 attacks in an ominous warning to any movie-goers planning to see the film.
In a message written in broken English, the group said a “bitter fate” awaited any who attend the film.
“Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear,” the statement warned.
It added: “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”
North Korea has denied involvement in the brazen November 24 cyber-attack, which some experts said could possibly have been carried out by disgruntled workers or by supporters of North Korea furious over the movie.
N.Korea behind hack attack?
James Lewis, a former State Department official, said that “of the characters who are out there, the most likely suspect is North Korea.”
A unnamed Sony source told AFP that the suggestion that North Korea was behind it “sounds right,” declining further comment.
In Washington, the US State Department sought to distance itself from the film, while defending the right to free expression.
“We’re not in the business of signing off on the content of movies or things along those lines,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki, adding: “Entertainers are free to make movies of their choosing, and we are not involved in that.”
President Barack Obama said there was “no credible evidence” of any threats linked to movie theaters.
“For now, my recommendation would be: Go to the movies,” Obama told ABC News.
The National Security Council said the US government had offered Sony “support and assistance” in response to the attack.
Experts said Sony’s decision sets a dangerous precedent.
“I am sympathetic with Sony and I am sympathetic with any theater that worries about damage and injury and worse involving its staff and its customers,” Richard Walter of the UCLA Film School told AFP.
“But on the other hand I have to say there is something, for an American and for anybody who loves freedom, that viscerally rebels against surrendering to terror this way,” he added.
“The single most disturbing aspect of this whole case it the notion that studios might cave, might surrender to lunatics of the political fringe in terms of what movies they make and what movies they release.”
Actor Rob Lowe, among a number of stars who have small cameo roles in the movie, voiced his surprise on Twitter.
“Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow,” he said.
“Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today,” he added, in reference to the British leader’s infamous appeasement of Hitler before World War II.
Here are a few more celebrity reactions:
Sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) December 17, 2014
I think it is disgraceful that these theaters are not showing The Interview. Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 17, 2014
What if an anonymous person got offended by something an executive at Coke said. Will we all have to stop drinking Coke?— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 17, 2014
We also don't know that it isn't a disgruntled employee or a hacker. Do we think North Korea has troops on the ground in the US? Ridiculous— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 17, 2014
This only guarantees that this movie will be seen by more people on Earth than it would have before. Legally or illegally all will see it.— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 17, 2014
Really hard to believe this is the response to a threat to freedom of expression here in America. #TheInterview— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) December 18, 2014
. @JuddApatow I agree wholeheartedly. An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) December 17, 2014
THE INTERVIEW is now poised to shatter the world record for "spite viewings."— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) December 17, 2014
All joking aside, we just gave a comfy foothold to censorship & it doesn't get any better from this point on. #TheInterview— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) December 18, 2014
The precedent of letting a nation state get away w cyber terrorism is 1 that will set the tone for anyone who wishes 2 suppress our freedoms— Josh Gad (@joshgad) December 18, 2014
Canceling "The Interview" seems like a pretty horrible precedent to set.— Zach Braff (@zachbraff) December 17, 2014
In addition to the threats, Sony has seen the release of a trove of highly unflattering internal emails, unpublished scripts and other internal communications, including information about salaries, employee health records and other personal information.
On Monday, December 15, Sony Pictures boss Michael Lynton sought to reassure employees that the studio would not be destroyed by the leaks.
“This will not take us down,” Lynton told employees, adding: “You should not be worried about the future of this studio.”
North Korea has denied involvement in the brazen November 24 cyber-attack, which some expert said could possibly have been carried out by disgruntled workers or by supporters of North Korea furious over the movie.
On Tuesday, December 16, lawyers filed two class action lawsuits against Sony Pictures in Los Angeles.
One of the suits alleged that “Sony failed to secure and protect its computer systems, servers, and databases, resulting in the release of the named plaintiffs and other class members'” personal data.
“An epic nightmare, much better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life, is unfolding in slow motion for Sony’s current and former employees,” the 45-page lawsuit said. – Rappler.com
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