Sony to release 'Interview' after hack attack

LOS ANGELES, USA – Sony Pictures said Tuesday, December 23, it will screen madcap comedy "The Interview" in some US theaters on Christmas Day, a dramatic U-turn after its widely criticized decision to cancel the film following a cyber-assault blamed on North Korea.

Just 6 days after canceling the film's opening, in a move decried as a defeat for freedom of speech, Sony chief executive Michael Lynton confirmed that the movie would now be shown in theaters on Thursday, December 25.

"We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," said Lynton, adding that the movie would be released on more "platforms" in the future.

The release of the film is likely to be limited to smaller movie chains. The New York Times reported that only 200-300 cinemas were expected to show the film after Sony, a fraction of the estimated 2,500 theaters originally expected to screen the movie.

Theaters in Austin, Texas and Atlanta were among the first to confirm plans to show the movie on Tuesday. 

Sony's U-turn was the latest twist to a crisis which has engulfed the studio and 'The Interview,' a screwball romp about a fictional plot by two US journalists embarking on a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

North Korea has been accused by the United States government of launching a crippling cyber attack on Sony which saw the release of a trove of embarrassing emails, scripts and other internal communications, including information about salaries and employee health records.

Pyongyang has repeatedly denied involvement in the hack but has applauded the actions of a shadowy online group which claimed responsibility for the cyber attack, the self-styled "Guardians of Peace."

Pressure to withdraw the film overwhelmed Sony last week after a series of major US theater chains said they would not show the film.

It followed chilling threats by the "Guardians of Peace" which suggested theaters screening the movie would be targeted with attacks.

'Freedom has prevailed'

But Sony's cancellation was condemned throughout the entertainment industry as a capitulation in the face of intimidation.

Even President Barack Obama, who has accused North Korea of carrying out an act of "cyber-vandalism" against Sony, said the studio had made a mistake by scrapping the film.

Obama applauded Sony's decision to release the film

"As the President made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters.

"The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome."

Comedian Seth Rogen, the movie's co-director, lead actor and screenwriter, hailed Sony's startling volte-face.

The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn't give up! The Interview will be shown at theaters willing to play it on Xmas day! — Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) December 23, 2014

Co-star James Franco sounded an equally jubilant note, thanking Obama for his support for the film while poking fun at the US leader for mistakenly referring to him as "James Flacco" during a press conference last week.

"CELEBRATING!!!!! "The Interview" starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco saved by President Obacco! I MEAN PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!!! Sorry!!! ?????," the actor wrote on his Instagram feed, posting this photo below.

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Though denying involvement in the brazen November 24 cyber attack on Sony, Pyongyang had hailed it as a "righteous deed."

The North's top military body, the National Defense Commission, slammed Sony for "abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership," according to state news agency KCNA.

On Monday, December 22, North Korea was cut off from the Internet for more than 9 hours, triggering speculation that the isolated dictatorship had been targeted by United States authorities in retaliation for the Sony crisis.

The country's Internet access was cut again on Tuesday, according to a US Internet research group that has been tracking North Korea's online activity. – Rappler.com