“This only guarantees that this movie will be seen by more people on Earth than it would have before. Legally or illegally all will see it,” tweeted Tinseltown’s box office sweetheart Judd Apatow in response to Sony’s recent decision to cancel the Christmas Day theatrical release of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s North Korea-offending flick “The Interview.” Finally, some much needed wisdom (from, of all people, the dude who brought us “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”) amidst the cacophonous cries bemoaning the death of freedom of expression, and handwringing over the future of our American theatergoing way of life.
And yet, by far the biggest shock is that all this far-right sounding bluster has been blowing from supposedly liberal, left-leaning Hollywood. So let’s all hit the pause button on our 24/7 news-cycle, take a collective deep breath. After all, this is Sony we’re talking about, folks. A massive corporation churning out assembly line products (usually containing superheroes) with a business model designed to maximize profit and minimize creativity (a threat to the bottom line far more dangerous than any hermit dictatorship). That “sad day for creative expression,” as Steve Carell tweeted? Sony and its tent pole-focused counterparts stifled creative expression long ago. (Not to mention risk. That sure-bet sequel reliant Sony decided to shelve “The Interview” should come as no surprise to anyone who’s actually visited one of those big name theater chains that didn’t want to be left holding Sony’s bag.)
So forgive me if I find it difficult to sympathize with the entertainment subsidiary of a Japanese media conglomerate. Oddly, I actually find myself with the same feeling I had towards the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Yes, it sucks that those investors got taken for a ride, yet Madoff never ripped off anyone who didn’t have extreme wealth to lose in the first place. North Korea’s probable cyber attack of Sony is atrocious (especially for its low level employees) – but it’s most definitely not a blow to the average moviegoer or maker, regardless of how Hollywood would like to spin it. After all, if Sony Pictures were to collapse there are numerous cookie cutter studios that would happily take its place (and its projects).
In other words, fear not, future Scott Rudins. As Apatow’s tweet implied, Sony can surely bounce back, even make some dough off “The Interview” if it chooses. Indeed, the comedic filmmakers themselves couldn’t have staged a better publicity stunt for a VOD release – which, not incidentally, is the primary launch pad for the majority of independent productions, having long been locked out of multiplexes by Godzillas like Sony. Though we may never know each and every detail behind the hack, the reason behind some of that Schadenfreude resulting from the release of embarrassing, executive rank emails is crystal clear. If anything, the Sony scandal has temporarily leveled the playing field – and reduced a corporate titan to consider doing what the scrappy indie guys regard as simply business as usual. So perhaps we should also view this made-for-Hollywood drama as a victory for alternative distribution strategies, and a 21st century struggle that began and will ultimately end on the World Wide Web.