We all know someone who takes movies a bit too seriously. If you’re reading this the chances are you’re someone who takes movies a bit too seriously. Heck I know I am. But even I look back on all the fuss over Sony’s release of the film The Interview with some raised eyebrows. As we start a new year with a lot of great movies to look forward to (I’m looking specifically at you Episode VII), I think it’s worth reviewing what happened in one of the biggest brouhahas we've seen over a film in many years.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and The Interview might be the exception that proves the rule. This film was set up to be another laugh-and-forget comedy that we've seen time and time again. Movies that are fun to watch but do not make much of an impact beyond the hour-and-a-half it takes to watch them. I probably like James Franco and Seth Rogan as much as the next guy, but they’re no Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (And I’m now trying to picture the opening musical number to Road to North Korea). My point is that this wasn't a film that was destined to make much of an impact.
Then somebody threatened to blow up theaters that showed it.
After that the theater chains decided to pull The Interview from their showings, which then prompted Sony to cancel the wide release altogether. Ok, so I’m not privy the information on how credible a threat that was, but the theater chains made the only decision they could when they pulled the release. It wasn't about the moviegoers who wanted to see the movie despite the risk, it was about the people working at the theaters who didn't sign up for that kind of risk (however remote). It was about the moviegoers who wanted to see a movie besides The Interview who didn't need to be put at risk (however remote). It was about everybody else who owned property next to theaters who didn't need to be put at that kind of risk (however remote). I’ll admit to being one of the first people to harangue Sony for deciding to pull the film and I still don’t think it’s wise to kowtow to anonymous cyber-bullies. After reflecting on the issue I do think that Sony and the theater chains made the only decision they could at that point. I am glad that Sony decided to eventually release to movie online, and was able to recoup some of their losses. Although it’s a poor comparison to what they would have made at the box office.
What makes this an interesting story to think is that nobody would've cared about The Interview fifteen minutes after they’d finished watching it if not for the fact that somebody tried to violently censor it. And it’s not as if this movie was making some big political statement. It was making a joke.
Sidebar: If there’s a country on this planet that needs a healthy dose of Hollywood’s satire hammer it is North Korea. Most of the world has no idea how truly a horrible place to live North Korea is, except the people actually living in North Korea. And what’s even worse is that the North Korean government has such a stranglehold on the information its people have access to, they don’t even understand how truly a horrible place it is in comparison to the rest of the world.
A lot of people out there (me especially) become more intent on doing something the moment they’re told they are not allowed to. I didn't care that much about The Interview until somebody told me I couldn't watch it.
There are likely two things to consider now. First, that by trying to censor The Interview the people who made threats against it brought more attention to the movie than it was probably due. People are now going to remember this film for a while, and not because it’s a great movie or because it has an important message. People are going to remember it because of all the over-reactions it garnered. In this respect, the people who wanted to silence the film failed. Second, The Interview is still likely going to be financially a net loss for Sony. The studios, which are businesses, are going to have to consider the bottom line when producing films that have questionable content. This isn't exactly new, but it’s going to weigh more heavily in the immediate future.