The Interview goes online ahead of theater premier

Updated: 2014-12-25 13:11

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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Sony Pictures film The Interview went online unexpectedly on Wednesday before its Christmas premiere in some 300 independent movie theaters across the United States.

Featuring a fictional assassination of Kim Jung-un, supreme leader of Democratic People's Republic of Korea by a US TV crew team, The Interview is available on YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox Video and its own dedicated website, Users can rent it for $5.99 or purchase the movie for $14.99.

"It has always been Sony's intention to have a national platform on which to release this film," Sony Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton said in a statement. He said that "it became clear our initial release plans were not possible. We are pleased we can now join with our partners to offer the film nationwide today."

Going online before being released in theaters is unusual because film studios normally screen their movies in theaters first and release digital versions after some time. Putting a movie online is generally not as profitable as showing it in theaters.

Sony may have problems with theater owners by doing this, said Kathryn Arnold, a Los Angeles-based producer and entertainment consultant. But to Sony, rather than making money, it's "more about making a point" about the importance of the freedom of expression, Arnold said. "It's the most aggressive step possible."

The studio has been criticized for initially canceling the movie's Christmas release amid hacking and terrorist threats. On Nov 24, a hacker group called "Guardians of Peace" (GOP) infiltrated Sony Pictures' computer system and obtained large amounts of e-mails, executives' salary details and unreleased versions of movies. The group, which the US government claims is linked with the DPRK government, further threatened to carry out 9/11 style attacks if Sony showed the film in theaters, forcing America's five largest cinema chains to pull out of screening it.

Sony Pictures' initial decision to not release the film was criticized by movie makers as a compromise of the freedom of expression and called a "mistake" by President Barack Obama.

"We could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be)." wrote David Drummond, Google's senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer, in Google's official blog on its decision to show the movie.

Some independent movie theaters have decided to screen the comedy. Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse chain and the Plaza Theater in Atlanta decided to show it on Christmas as scheduled. Los Angeles-based Laemmle Theaters said it would show the film beginning Dec 31. Tickets have been selling fast, according to Hollywood Reporter, with most tickets sold out in just one day.

Showing the film online "is remedying the situation with the creative industry, and it gets ahead of hackers' pirated version, which may have been leaked," Arnold said.

The hacking is estimated to have cost Sony $100 million, according to Reuters. The unexpected release "is mitigating their damages before they can file an insurance claim," said Bruce Nahin, a Los-Angeles consultant of business affairs in entertainment. He told China Daily that the movie may not turn out to be a blockbuster anyway, given it has to compete with several other big productions, but intensive media coverage have aroused interests of people who were originally not interested.

"Who knows how many downloads it's going to be?" said Nahin.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this story.

(China Daily USA 12/25/2014 page1)