'The Interview' is over.
LOS ANGELES — “The world will be full of fear."
There's no way the hackers who brought Sony Pictures Entertainment to its knees, forcing the studio to shut down The Interview after a cascade of mortifying security and strategic failures over the past few weeks, could have known how right their statement would turn out to be.
Never before has a major U.S. corporation looked so helpless. Never before has an enemy wielded such power over, or so vigorously had its way with, one of the United States' most important cultural institutions. Blocked its chief export. Stomped on its free speech.
The one scrap of defiant dignity that Sony Pictures Entertainment had left was its movie, steadfastly marching through the fire toward a Christmas Day release. But in a course of a few hours on Wednesday, as one theater chain after another turned and ran from the danger, Sony lost that, too.
At 2 p.m. PT, just a couple of hours after the top North American exhibitors announced they would not show The Interview, Sony waved the white flag:
In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. 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 are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.
For the first few weeks, the Sony hacking story was all about the studio's secrets. Not much was said about The Interview itself, other than when it was passingly referenced as the motivation for the vicious cyberattack, possibly at the hands of North Korea due to its absurdist depiction of the assassination of Kim Jong-un. It was assumed the film would open as planned.
Last Thursday, the same day racially-tinged emails between Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal and superproducer Scott Rudin were laid bare, the world premiere of The Interview went off without a hitch in Los Angeles. At the bustling screening inside the beautifully restored Ace Hotel, the crowd roared its approval, laughing hardest at the film's climactic moment, when [HEAVY SPOILER ALERT OBVIOUSLY] the North Korean leader's head exploded in a ball of flame as Katy Perry's "Firework" crescendoed.
In the days that followed, it was speculated that perhaps The Interview would be a modest hit, thanks to all the attention and the sheen of bully-defiance that would go along with paying to see it.
Then Tuesday happened.
Along with a new batch of mostly innocuous emails from the keyboard of Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, a new message was delivered to several media outlets — includingHDT — once again in mangled English. But this one had just the right words and pushed just the right buttons:
WarningWe will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.
Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
The world will be full of fear.
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.)
Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
All the world will denounce the SONY.
Suddenly the Sony hack wasn't just about the studio's secrets, or the safety and security of its 6,000 employees. In one brilliant check-mate of a move, it became about the safety and security of everyone who goes to the movies over the holidays. Which ... is pretty much everyone.
Not forgotten by anyone: One by one, Guardians of Peace had made good on all of its threats in the past month. No matter how fantastical it seemed that cyberattacks would suddenly manifest as bombs, bullets or worse, the trap was sprung.
Call it the crumbling dice
Shortly after the threat, reports surfaced that Sony was considering scrapping the movie. Some have suggested that was always the plan. But after suffering one bloodied nose after another, they weren't about to surrender that meekly.
HDT and others soon reported that rather than tap out, the studio decided to put it to a vote: The studio told the National Association of Theater Owners that chains could decide for themselves whether to show the film. With the Department of Homeland Security stating plainly that there was no credible threat, there was reason to believe, at least on the surface, that they might go through with it.
If that was Sony's way of saving face, deferring an impossible decision to a group of much smaller companies while upholding the appearance of resolve through a series of well-orchestrated media leaks, it worked. They looked firm in standing by The Interview, but sensitive to individual safety concerns.
If that was Sony's way of trying to actually salvage an opening weekend, it was an unmitigated disaster. The studio found out right quick who its supporters in the exhibition world were not.
The first to fall was Carmike Cinemas.
Based in Columbus, Georgia, the nation's fourth-largest chain bills itself as "America's Hometown Theatre," a folksy way of saying that most of their 270-plus cinemas are in rural or suburban areas — about the last place you'd expect a terrorist attack. At first, the outlying theater chain was indeed an outlier; sources with knowledge of the larger exhibitors' thinking toldHDT late Tuesday that despite Carmike's instant defection, plans to show the film hadn't changed.
By Wednesday morning, tiny Bow Tie Cinemas, the 10th-largest chain in the U.S. with 63 theaters in the Northeast, became the second chain to cave. “The safety and comfort of our patrons is foremost in our minds,” Bow Tie CEO Ben Moss told Variety.
Still, for a few hours, the big chains held fast. Then, shortly after 11:30 a.m., HDT had this lead:
LOS ANGELES — North America's top five theater chains have bowed out of The Interview, choosing not to show the comedy after hackers that have bedeviled Sony Pictures for nearly a month vaguely threatened attacks against any cinemas that show it,HDT has confirmed.
Regal, AMC and Cinemark — the top three — all dropped the movie in one fell swoop, meaning the vast majority of U.S. theaters would not show The Interview. Toronto-based Cineplex fell next, the fifth-largest exhibitor in North America. Those five chains represent about 22,000 screens at roughly 1,600 locations across North America, nearly enough to open a film in what's considered a wide release.
AMC, the second-largest chain behind Regal, issued a statement that smacked of exasperation and seemed to telegraph that Sony was never quite firm in its decision to release The Interviewat all:
As friends and families make plans for the upcoming holidays, AMC has received many questions about which movies we are playing in the weeks ahead. The recent cancellation of The Interview's premiere and publicity appearances by its leading talent, and the overall confusion and uncertainty that has been created in the marketplace, brings into serious doubt whether the movie will open at all next week. At this time, to best enable AMC guests to plan their holiday movie-going with certainty and confidence, AMC is programming its theatres without The Interview.
Toronto-based Cineplex, tweeted about its decision, citing safety concerns:
Your safety is our top priority. We have decided to postpone The Interview.http://t.co/aHhWvSxtuy— Cineplex (@CineplexMovies) December 17, 2014
The mass defection reportedly has spurred talks within Sony of a premium VOD release, something the major studios have been wanting for years to try anyway. But that in itself is tricky — if Guardians of Peace can put the kibosh on a nationwide theatrical release with threats of violence, what's to stop them from spooking cable VOD providers, or iTunes or Netflix, with threats of attacks or more hacking?
And prepping a feature film for home video release is a process that takes several weeks; there's no way Sony would have The Interview ready in time for Christmas, anyway. As of this writing, Sony had no plans to release the film in any format.
And the fallout reached even deeper into Hollywood on Wednesday, as New Regency reportedly was scrapping plans to start shooting a North Korea-based thriller starring Steve Carell in March.
Will anyone ever see The Interview? Now that the hackers have been granted an all-new set of powers, that seems more unlikely with each new development.
Tags: ENTERTAINMENT, FILM, SONY HACK, THE INTERVIEW