The demise of “The Interview” started and ended in Georgia.
Major theater chains, led by Columbus-based Carmike Cinemas, pulled the spoof starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as tabloid journalists on a secret mission to take out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, amid anonymous threats of potential violence. By midday Wednesday national chains AMC, Cineplex, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark had all yanked the film from their line-ups and by the evening Sony Pictures announced it had scotched the planned Christmas Day release altogether.
“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 Dec. 25 theatrical release,” Sony 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.”
In a statement, Carmike said: “The top priority for Carmike Cinemas is to ensure that our valued guests may enjoy the entertainment of their choosing in a safe and comfortable environment. Carmike must take threats against movie theatres very seriously and the recent unprecedented cyber-attacks against Sony Pictures are no exception. Therefore, in an abundance of caution, Carmike will delay the exhibition of ‘The Interview.’ There are many additional excellent movie titles to choose from this holiday season, and we look forward to welcoming our patrons.”
Michael Furlinger, president of Atlanta’s Plaza Theater, may have been the last man standing. Early on Wednesday he pledged not to deviate from his scheduled Christmas Eve premiere.
“I’d never stand for something like that,” he said. “As an independent we have more flexibility.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t his decision.
“I hate this,” he said after the final announcement. “This is blackmail.”
To be fair,wHe wasn’t the only indie to go down swinging – the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas/Fort Worth posted “FOR THE RECORD: We were still going to show ‘The Interview.’ …but now we’ll be showing TEAM AMERICA in its place…for FREE(DOM). Because AMERICA.”
The action followed the work of computer hackers, working possibly at the behest and definitely with the blessing of North Korea, who have been releasing secret and often embarrassing internal e-mails it boosted from Sony.
“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business,” the statement said. “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.”
Many in the entertainment industry were disgusted by the cancellation.
“I think it is disgraceful that these theaters are not showing ‘The Interview,’” Hollywood producer Judd Apatow, whose credits including Atlanta-made “Anchorman 2” and “Wanderlust,” said on his Twitter feed. “Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?”
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel responded in agreement, posting, “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”
As planned screenings toppled like dominoes Wednesday, Furlinger canceled holiday travel plans so he could attend his theater’s scheduled launch. He didn’t discuss security plans but hinted at a stepped-up presence.
“I won’t say I’m not worried,” he said. “You never take anything for granted.”
He did get a little blow back on the theater’s Facebook page: “This crappy movie is not worth the safety of our country,” a poster wrote. Furlinger responded drolly, “You have seen the film?”
Early reviews indeed were pretty bad. USA Today said it “grows duller by the minute,” The Wrap found it “messy and meandering” and Variety proclaimed it “as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.”
Crummy reviews or not, retired U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Walter Edwards said watching the movie would have been something of an act of patriotism. He was dismayed by “The Interview’s” demise.
“We say we’re not going to submit to terrorism,” said Edwards, who put in 20 years before retiring to southeast metro Atlanta in 1998. “We are supposed to be the leader of the free world. We pressure countries to end terrorism but then we freeze up. When I first came in (the military) I knew people who served in Korea. They were getting ready to retire. Everybody I met was proud to serve their country. It feels bad when the citizens who sent you out so energetically now crumble.”