(Reuters) – Sony Pictures said on Tuesday it would show “The Interview” in some U.S. theaters after President Barack Obama and others criticized its decision last week to cancel the comedy’s release following a devastating cyberattack that was blamed on North Korea.
Shortly thereafter, the White House praised Sony’s about-face, which the studio said would result in “a limited theatrical release” on Christmas Day of the film, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco and is about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
“The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome,” presidential spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.
Obama on Friday had called Sony’s decision to pull the $44 million movie a mistake, suggesting it could set a precedent in which “some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats, as well as Hollywood luminaries such as George Clooney, had also assailed the canceled release, with some accusing the studio of self-censorship. Some in Congress called for screenings on Capitol Hill or at the White House.
Franco and Rogen, who also co-directed the film, broke their silence after Sony made the announcement.
“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed!” Rogen said, while Franco added, “VICTORY!!!!!!! The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken!!!”
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton said the studio was looking for more options to screen the film, which major U.S. theater chains pulled because of threats from hackers who warned of a September 11, 2001 style of attack.
Lynton said in Tuesday’s statement: “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.” He said Sony was trying to secure other platforms and more theaters “so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
The first sign Sony was having second thoughts about pulling the film came in a tweet from Tim League, founder of the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, saying it planned to show the movie. A theater in Atlanta, the Plaza Atlanta, also said on social media that it will also show the movie.
It remained unclear how many theaters would be allowed to screen the film and if major movie chains would reverse course and join the group of authorized exhibitors.
Greg Laemmle, the president of Los Angeles cinema chain Laemmle Theatres, said it would screen ‘The Interview’ at one venue on Dec. 31 – albeit with extra security precautions – and that Sony told the chain of a plan to have the movie play on video-on-demand (VOD) beginning on Dec. 25. Sony has not confirmed the VOD plan, which has also been reported elsewhere.
THREAT NOT DEEMED CREDIBLE
A national security official said U.S. authorities did not rate the threats by hackers against theatergoers as credible and that he was unaware of any plans by U.S. agencies to issue warnings of possible attacks on exhibitors screening the film.
North Korea experienced Internet problems at the weekend and a complete outage of nearly nine hours before links were largely restored on Tuesday; U.S. officials said Washington was not involved.
Links were restored at 0146 GMT on Tuesday, but two brief outages occurred later in the day, said U.S.-based Dyn Research, a company that monitors Internet infrastructure.
Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn Research, said the intermittent nature of the outages suggested they were not due to a decision in North Korea or elsewhere to disconnect the Internet but could support the theory of cyber attacks – or power problems inside North Korea.
Matthew Prince, CEO of U.S.-based CloudFlare, which protects websites from web-based attacks, said the fact that North Korea’s Internet was back up “is pretty good evidence that the outage wasn’t caused by a state-sponsored attack; otherwise it’d likely still be down for the count.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular briefing on Tuesday she had no new information on U.S. options on responding to North Korea. “I leave it North Koreans to talk about if their Internet was up, if it wasn’t and why,” she said.
Almost all of North Korea’s Internet links and traffic pass through China and Beijing dismissed any suggestion that it was involved as “irresponsible.”
South Korea, which remains technically at war with North Korea, said meanwhile it could not rule out involvement by its neighbor in a cyberattack on its nuclear power plant operator. It said only non-critical data was stolen and operations were not at risk but had asked for U.S. help in investigating.
North Korea has denied it was behind the cyberattack on Sony and has vowed to hit back against any U.S. retaliation, threatening the White House and the Pentagon.
(Additional reporting by Meeyoung Cho and Sohee Kim in Seoul, David Brunnstrom and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing, Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore, Mary Milliken in Los Angeles; Writing by Christian Plumb; Editing by David Storey and Steve Orlofsky)
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