Sony broadly releases 'The Interview' in sudden reversal 

click to enlarge A computer screen shows Sony Pictures' film, "The Interview" available for rental on YouTube Movies Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, in Los Angeles. "The Interview" became available for rental on a variety of digital platforms Wednesday afternoon, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website, Sony Pictures announced. - RICHARD VOGEL/AP
  • Richard Vogel/AP
  • A computer screen shows Sony Pictures' film, "The Interview" available for rental on YouTube Movies Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, in Los Angeles. "The Interview" became available for rental on a variety of digital platforms Wednesday afternoon, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website, Sony Pictures announced.

Amid a swell of controversy, backlash, confusion and threats, Sony Pictures broadly released "The Interview" online Wednesday -- an unprecedented counterstroke against the hackers who spoiled the Christmas opening of the comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"It has always been Sony's intention to have a national platform on which to release this film," Sony Pictures chair and CEO Michael Lynton said in a statement. "We chose the path of digital distribution first so as to reach as many people as possible on opening day, and we continue to seek other partners and platforms to further expand the release."

"The Interview" became available on a variety of digital platforms Wednesday afternoon, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website, a day after Sony and independent theaters agreed to release it in over 300 venues on Christmas. The wide digital release is the culmination of a set of deals that have been in the works since the major theater chains last week dropped the movie that was to have opened on up to 3,000 screens.

Seth Rogen, who stars in the film he co-directed with Evan Goldberg, cheered the decision.

"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," he tweeted.

A Sony executive close to the matter said that there is concern over whether the company will recoup the $40 million cost of the film and the millions more spent on marketing, but that affordability and wide access were their main priorities. The executive also said more providers could sign on in the coming days and weeks and the option is still there for more theaters to show the film down the line. The executive said it remained an option for the major theater chains to show the film, and that Sony was working to repair the symbiotic relationship that has eroded in recent days.

Sony's initial decision not to release the film was widely criticized, with President Barack Obama one of the harshest critics.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama welcomed the news.

"As the president made clear on Friday, we do not live in a country where a foreign dictator can start imposing censorship here in the United States. With today's announcements, people can now make their own choices about the film, and that's how it should be," Schultz said.

Among the early viewers was 11-year-old Marco Squitieri of Washington, D.C. Squitieri had wanted to see "The Interview" since seeing a preview earlier this year and had followed the news about Sony pulling the movie, then permitting its release. Squitieri's family purchased "The Interview" from Xbox for $14.99.

"It's pretty funny," Squitieri told The Associated Press, laughing as he praised the chemistry of Rogen and Franco and adding that he could understand why the North Korean government wouldn't like it. "They make fun of North Korea a lot."

QUICK TAKES

The children of radio legend Casey Kasem said Wednesday they will share all hospital records in their possession with his widow, who is suing a hospital in Washington state to learn more about the last weeks of his life. ... Katt Williams has pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a robbery charge filed after a photographer accused the comedian of stealing her camera. ... On Wednesday, Roman Polanski lost his latest bid to have a California court dismiss his 1977 sex case when a judge rejected a motion for a new hearing. Polanski, 81, fled to France after pleading guilty to one count of statutory rape for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Singers Jess and Lisa Origliasso of The Veronicas are 30. ... Country singer Alecia Elliott is 32. ... Singer Mac Powell of Third Day is 42. ... Singer Dido is 43. ... Guitarist Noel Hogan of The Cranberries is 43. ... Singer Shane McGowan of The Pogues is 57. ... Guitarist Robin Campbell of UB40 is 60. ... Singer Annie Lennox is 60. ... Actress CCH Pounder is 62. ... Actress Sissy Spacek is 65. ... Country singer Barbara Mandrell is 66. ... Singer Jimmy Buffett is 68. ... Singer John Edwards of The Spinners is 70. ... Actress Hanna Schygulla ("Effi Briest") is 71. -- Staff, wire reports

Got scoops or Bay Area celebrity gossip? Email scoop@sfexaminer.com.

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