Citing freedom of speech concerns, Google has released the Sony Pictures film The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, for rent and streaming on Google Play and YouTube.
Earlier this month, Sony pulled their planned release of the political comedy in theaters across America, succumbing to threats by a hacker group that US officials claim is linked to North Korea. The group, called the Guardians of Peace, demanded that Sony pull The Interview, which it called “the movie of terrorism,” making threats against theaters that would play it. In The Interview, Rogen and Franco play two journalists tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea has denied involvement in the hacking and proposed a joint investigation with the US government. Some independent experts have also questioned whether the evidence against North Korea is sufficient. President Barack Obama told CNN he is considering putting North Korea back on the list of terrorism sponsors (North Korea was removed in 2008), following the Sony hack.
David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer writes on the Google blog:
Last Wednesday Sony began contacting a number of companies, including Google, to ask if we’d be able to make their movie, “The Interview,” available online. We'd had a similar thought and were eager to help—though given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds.
Of course it was tempting to hope that something else would happen to ensure this movie saw the light of day. But after discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that 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).
So starting at 10 a.m. PST in the U.S., you can rent or buy “The Interview” on Google Play and YouTube Movies. It will also be available to Xbox Video customers and via www.seetheinterview.com.
Watching #TheInterview on you tube pic.twitter.com/Epe88QpR3x
— Howard Fineman (@howardfineman) December 24, 2014
The move was welcomed by the two popular stars of the film:
Merry X-mas MERICA! !!!!!THE INTERVIEW IS LIVE!!!!!! !!!Watch it here!!! http://t.co/oQ7YpBZXhY Thank you SONY!!!!!!!!
— James Franco (@JamesFrancoTV) December 24, 2014
You wanna watch The Interview?? You can RIGHT FUCKING NOW!! Go to http://t.co/IRhW7juZWn. Thanks Sony for making it happen. Booyah.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) December 24, 2014
I need to say that a comedy is best viewed in a theater full of people, so if you can, I'd watch it like that. Or call some friends over.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) December 24, 2014
But the Globe and Mail's Senior Media Writer, Simon Houpt, shared some bad news:
Poor @SethRogen: #TheInterview won't be eligible for an Oscar. @TheAcademy rules preclude online premieres: http://t.co/AeAkVgM7TP
— Simon Houpt (@simonhoupt) December 24, 2014
An Oscar was probably a far-fetched idea in any case, as the film isn't getting great reviews:
I likely won't see #TheInterview anytime soon. But I wanted the freedom to make this choice. pic.twitter.com/UC90mxhlU0 via @CNNWire
— Jeffrey Guterman PhD (@JeffreyGuterman) December 24, 2014
Great that there is debate on freedom in film. Just too bad it was prompted by such a mediocre movie. #TheInterview
— Gitesh Pandya (@giteshpandya) December 24, 2014
On December 16, 2014, the Guardians threatened to carry out “terrorist attacks” against theaters that played The Interview. Immediately, Rogen and Franco canceled a series of promotional appearances for the film, and Sony pulled its TV advertising. The following day, Sony canceled the theatrical release of The Interview, after many major North American cinema chains pulled the film out of security concerns. On December 23, Sony announced that The Interview would have a limited release at some small independent theaters on December 25. On December 24, the film was released on YouTube and Google Play.
@piersmorgan You'll pay for #TheInterview with your credit card and they'll hack u and steal your information.
— Michael (@mikeztyme) December 24, 2014
Sony Pictures was the victim of a massive cyberattack by the Guardians of Peace in November 2014. The hackers breached Sony’s security systems, stole tens of thousands of internal documents and emails and left threats. The Guardians said they were going to make these private documents public if the studio went ahead with its planned release of The Interview. They also left a threat directed towards Sony employees with violent and disturbing imagery that said “not only you but your family will be in danger.”
In June 2014, threats of “merciless” action against the United States were made if the film's distributor Columbia Pictures, a Sony subsidiary, went ahead with the release. Columbia delayed the planned October 10 release to December 25, reportedly to make the film more acceptable to North Korea.