Sony cancels The Interview movie amid terror hack threats

2014-12-18 08:42

Under the threat of terrorist attacks from hackers and with the United States’ largest multiplex chains pulling the film from their screens, Sony Pictures Entertainment took the unprecedented step of cancelling the release of the Seth Rogen comedy The Interview.

The cancellation of the release, which was set for Christmas Day, was a startling blow to the Hollywood studio that has been shaken by hacker leaks and intimidations over the last several weeks by an anonymous group calling itself Guardians of Peace.

A US official said yesterday that federal investigators have now connected the Sony hacking to North Korea and may make an announcement in the near future. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

Sony said it was cancelling The Interview release “in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film”. The studio said it respected and shared in the exhibitors’ concerns.

“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,” read the statement.

“We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

Seemingly putting to rest any hope of a delayed theatrical release or a video-on-demand release Sony Pictures spokesperson Jean Guerin later added: “Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film.”

Earlier yesterday, Regal Cinemas, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark Theatres – the three top theatre chains in North America – announced that they were postponing any showings of The Interview. The comedy, about a TV host (James Franco) and producer (Rogen) tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un (played by Randall Park), has inflamed North Korea for parodying its leader.

On Tuesday, the hacking group threatened violence at “the very times and places” showing The Interview.

The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday there was “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theatres,” but noted it was still analysing messages from the group. The warning did prompt law enforcement in New York and Los Angeles to address measures to ramp up security.

In Washington, White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said the US government had no involvement in Sony’s decision, adding that artists and entertainers have the right to produce and distribute whatever content they want in the US.

“We take very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists’ freedom of speech or of expression,” Meehan said.

President Barack Obama commented on the hacking yesterday in an interview with ABC News.

“The cyber attack is very serious,” said Obama.

“We’re investigating and we’re taking it seriously. We’ll be vigilant. If we see something that we think is serious and credible then we’ll alert the public. But for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

With a modest budget of about $40 million, The Interview was predicted to earn around $30 million in its opening weekend before Tuesday’s threats. Sony also stands to lose tens of millions in marketing costs already incurred.

“This attack went to the heart and core of Sony’s business – and succeeded,” said Avivah Litan, a cyber security analyst at research firm Gartner.

“We haven’t seen any attack like this in the annals of US breach history.”

Sony was also under pressure from other studios. Christmas is one of the most important box-office weekends of the year, and the threats could have scared moviegoers away.

Sony’s announcement was met with widespread distress across Hollywood and by others watching the unfolding attack on Sony. A former senior national security official in the George W Bush administration said the company made the wrong decision.

“When you are confronted with a bully the idea is not to cave but to punch him in the nose,” Fran Townsend, Bush’s homeland security adviser, said yesterday during a previously scheduled appearance in Washington.

“This is a horrible, I think, horrible precedent.”

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