The Interview: Mr Kim's backfire does digital world a favour

Hollywood may never be the same as political comedy becomes online hit

The global furore over Sony Pictures’ The Interview could yet be seen as a turning point for Hollywood and the entertainment industry generally.

Leaving aside the political implications, which has descended to North Korea likening President Obama to a monkey, The Interview has been an unintentional boost for independent cinemas and digital platforms.

Both don’t figure much with Hollywood, whose focus is on blockbusters and multiplexes. The big chains ran scared when hackers threatened physical attacks at the New York premiere of the $US44 million budget comedy.

Sony initially backed down and pulled the film from release – an unprecedented act for a big budget comedy – until President Obama described the move as wrong and promised a suitable response. Internet outages in North Korea quickly followed.

The FBI and US intelligence services blamed the cyber-attack of Sony Pictures on North Korean hackers, who objected to the film’s plot about the assassination of dictator Kim Jong Un.

Since then, with President Obama’s endorsement, the film has become a sensation. Although the cinema release was modest –  some $US2.8 million from 331 cinemas in the US from Thursday to Sunday – it has been streamed or downloaded more than two million times since it becamåe available last Wednesday.

This generated more than $US15 million in gross revenue in just four five days on a release that restricts it being viewed, except illegally, anywhere but the US.

This makes it the most successful movie ever in terms of digital sales and rentals.

A senior Hollywood-based Disney executive, visiting Auckland, told me it’s also been a boon for independent cinemas and arthouse movie lovers.

Outside of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, these cinemas are rare and he hopes the publicity will help and returns will help them.

Gamers attacked, too
In a separate but related development, hackers also attacked gaming networks, including Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox, both of which are offering The Interview as video downloads.

A Twitter account believed to be operated by a hacker group called Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for the denial-of-service attacks, which coincided with Christmas when many would have received new games or devices.

This angered no one more than arch gamer Kim Dotcom, who stepped in and claimed he stopped the attacks by offering the offenders free use of his Mega services.

This YouTube link posted by a gamers’ news site has Mr Dotcom discussing the issue with representatives of Lizard Squad and two other hacking groups, Finest Squad and Anonymous.

Asked what his gesture would cost him financially, Mr Dotcom estimated it at about $US3000,000.

Meanwhile, it’s been revealed the Japanese head office of Sony ordered some 10 minutes be cut from the R-rated The Interview, eliminating a “morning after the orgy” scene, where Mr Kim wakes up in bed with a TV star, and disguising North Korean military buttons.

The film then shows stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, as US tabloid TV journalists, playing on a Playstation with their new “best friend.”

As part of the cyber-attack on Sony, the North Korean hackers reportedly stole 30,000 files in the attempt to blackmail the studio into scrapping the film.
Sony has been quoted as saying it may restore the missing footage in a “director’s cut” DVD edition. We can only hope.