NEW YORK - Critics and early viewers agree that "The Interview" is less than a masterpiece. But thanks to threats from hackers that nearly derailed its release, it has become an event.
Hundreds of theaters yesterday, from The Edge 8 in Greenville, Ala., to Michael Moore's Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Mich., made special holiday arrangements for the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Sony Pictures had initially called off the release after major theater chains dropped the movie that was to have opened on as many as 3,000 screens.
But with President Obama among others criticizing the decision, Sony officials changed their minds. "The Interview" became available on a variety of digital platforms Wednesday afternoon, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website. Meanwhile, Sony and independent theaters agreed to release it in more than 300 venues on Christmas.
"We are taking a stand for freedom," said theater manager Lee Peterson of the Cinema Village East in Manhattan, where most of yesterday's seven screenings had sold out by early afternoon. "We want to show the world that Americans will not be told what we can or cannot watch. Personally, I am not afraid."
At Atlanta's Plaza Theater, a sellout crowd yesterday hailed the film's release, washing down popcorn with beer and cocktails and uniting for a boisterous sing-along of "God Bless America" before the opening credits.
"This is way more fun than it would have been," said Jim Kelley of Atlanta, who waited outside with his daughter, Shannon. The elder Kelley added, with mocking sarcasm, "This is almost dangerous, like we're living life on the edge."
Some venues showing "The Interview" were more likely to feature documentaries about North Korea than a low-brow comedy about it. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which begins screening "The Interview" today, will soon be hosting a tribute to "Force Majeure" director Ruben Ostlund of Sweden and a documentary about the late Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.
The backstory of "The Interview" has itself played out like a Hollywood satire, in which a cartoonish farce distracts from some of the holiday season's most prestigious films: "Selma," the drama about the 1965 civil rights march; Angelina Jolie's adaptation of the best-selling World War II story "Unbroken"; and the all-star, big-screen version of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
Security was light at many theaters, with the occasional police officer on hand. The possibility of violence was taken more seriously by the movie industry than by government officials. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement saying that there were no credible threats.
Kim Song, a North Korean diplomat to the United Nations, condemned the release Wednesday, calling the movie an "unpardonable mockery of our sovereignty and dignity of our supreme leader." But Kim said North Korea will likely limit its response to condemnation, with no "physical reaction."