“The Interview,” the Sony Pictures film about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, opened in more than 300 movie theaters across the United States on Christmas Day, drawing many sell-out audiences and statements by patrons that they were championing freedom of expression.
Co-directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who co-stars in the low-brow comedy with James Franco, surprised moviegoers by appearing at the sold-out 12:30 a.m. screening of the movie at a theater in Los Angeles, where they briefly thanked fans for their support.
Sony Pictures this week backtracked from its original decision to cancel the release of the $44 million film after major US theater chains pulled out because of threats by the group claiming responsibility for a destructive cyberattack on Sony last month.
The United States blamed the attacks on North Korea.
But movie theater managers and patrons alike said they believed there was nothing to fear, and the initial screenings on Thursday were uneventful.
The audience at the first screening of the film in New York City, at the Cinema Village in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, remained silent during a scene showing the death of Kim Jong Un in the downing of his helicopter.
Matt Rosenzweig, 60, of Manhattan, said the moments that drew the most applause had to do with the idea of acting against censorship rather than animosity toward North Korea.
The film is available online in the United States on Google Inc’s Google Play and YouTube Movie and to customers of Microsoft’s Xbox Video, as well as on a Sony website, www.seetheinterview.com. It can be seen also in Canada on the Sony site and Google Canada’s website.
Cinema Village manager Lee Peterson, who declined to provide details of security precautions, said the New York Police Department planned to have officers outside the theater. He said he had also heard from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“A week ago we didn’t think this was going to happen. Let freedom ring. Nobody’s going to tell us what we can or can’t see,” Peterson said to raucous applause as he addressed the theater’s first audience of the day, most of whom appeared to be in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
There was no visible police presence outside or inside the Cinema Village for the first screening.
In Los Angeles, where the film drew a sell-out crowd for the 12:30 a.m. showing, people who held cups of warm cider as they waited for the theater to open said they came to show support for freedom of speech and freedom of choice.
The movie, which is playing in theaters in major metropolitan areas as well as in smaller cities ranging from Bangor, Maine, to Jasper, Indiana, features Rogen and Franco as journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader.
Sony decided to release the film after U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as such Hollywood luminaries as George Clooney and Republicans and Democrats in Washington, raised concerns that Hollywood was setting a precedent of self-censorship.
Many of Thursday’s screenings sold out within hours on Wednesday.
Movie fans happy
The audience in Manhattan exited the theater to a throng of network TV cameras and a crowd of people lined up for the next showing.
“It was more serious, the satire, than I was expecting,” said Simone Reynolds, who saw the film while visiting from London. “There’s a message for America in there too about America’s foreign policy.”
North Korea has called the film an “act of war.”
Most fans simply called “The Interview” a funny movie.
“It’s a farce of the highest level,” said Matt Orstein as he left the theater in Los Angeles. “I would equate it to something like ‘Airplane!’ or ‘Hot Shots!’ you know. I mean it’s funny but it’s definitely nothing that could topple a monarchy.”
Ken Jacowitz, a 54-year-old librarian from the New York borough of Queens, called it “a funny film made by funny people.” He had a message for North Korea and the hackers: “You have given this movie whole new lives.”
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