Honestly, my first reaction to hearing the news that Sony was cancelling the release of its movie The Interview because of threats from North Korean hackers and blowback from theater chains was this: North Korea, you need to lighten up. Have you seen Seth Rogen and James Franco? Have you seen their movies? Do you really think they could be a danger to the North Korean military? One only needs to watch Pineapple Express to see that this is not a credible threat - unless you are worried about them stealing your weed.
Rogen and Franco are funny guys - and that's "funny ha-ha," not "funny weird." They are not intimidating in real life, and on film they don't cut much of a swath either. Rogen tried the action hero thing in The Green Hornet - a film without a sequel for a reason. The closest Franco has come to being tough on screen was when he played the trapped hiker who cut off his own hand in 127 Hours. Don't even get me started on the last film they were in together, This is the End. If that movie is emblematic of American filmmaking, then we might all be better off with communism.
Like many others, I was surprised by Sony's decision. Yes, moviegoers could be threatened by the North Koreans, and the idea that their moments of escapism could turn into real-life violence is an unpleasant one. In addition, if movie patrons stayed away from theaters altogether, that could tank the entire holiday movie season.
Yet, isn't Sony's decision a bit cowardly? Every American moviegoer knows that we don't negotiate with terrorists, and we certainly don't give in. If you don't believe me, go ask every character played by Harrison Ford since Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I actually have another theory. What if The Interview sucks? What if Rogen and Franco phoned it in, like This is the End? If the movie isn't funny, and people stay away from theaters despite this, then Sony and the screen owners really lose out.
Just for kicks, I checked out the early reviews of the movie, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. The devil is in the details, people. More than half of the reviews on the site panned it. Here are some examples from real film critics:
"Offers a few moments of casual brilliance but otherwise trips itself up in the threads of its contrived absurdity."
--Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice
"The remarkably dismal quality is emblematic of the mind-set that brought the movie, and its attendant crises, into being."
--Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
"That something so carefully slapdash and happily juvenile actually resulted in cyber-sabotage and threats of violence is, in itself, an enormous kind of joke. Too bad it's the biggest one here.
--Stephen Whitty, The Newark Star-Ledger
Many folks, including President Obama, decried Sony's decision as a sign of weakness, yet when you add into the calculation that the movie might have bombed on its own, the Sony folks look more like business people and less like cowards.
Aside from the North Koreans' lack of a sense of humor and perspective, I also think the writers and producers of The Interview messed up by deciding to have the plot center around an actual dictator. Since when did that type of realism make a Rogen or Franco effort funnier? Had they just made up a country, like "Kreplachistan" in the first Austin Powers movie, then the whole controversy would have been averted. I can't be the first person to think of this.
Lastly, the biggest difference between the United States and North Korea remains the Bill of Rights. We enjoy our freedom of expression, and we can handle it when movies show our president under attack. My guess is that if the Korean dictator were in power in the U.S., he would also take offense to Harrison Ford's Air Force One and Clint Eastwood's In the Line of Fire. Just mentioning Oliver Stone's JFK would get your computer hacked.
In closing, it's the end of another great year, and it's great to be an American. Despite the controversy, I'm going to the movies this holiday season - but look for me on opening night for Unbroken. Like the North Koreans, I will watch The Interview on Netflix, probably early next year. Happy Holidays.