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Sony will release 'The Interview' after all. Why the reversal? (+video)

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David Goldman/AP

(Read caption) A worker removes poster for the movie 'The Interview' from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater in Atlanta last week. But some independent theaters have now said they will show 'The Interview' on Christmas Day.

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“The Interview” will appear in public after all. Sony Pictures Entertainment on Tuesday announced that the embattled movie about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be screened in a scattering of independent theaters on Dec. 25, the day it was originally supposed to be released.

Sony also intimated that the film will be available through some sort of video-on-demand service, though details aren’t yet set.

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“We are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech,” said Sony Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton in a statement.

It has only been a few days since Sony pulled the film from general theatrical release in the face of vague threats about violence from hackers who crashed Sony computers and stole a vast trove of company information. The US government has since said that it believes North Korea itself was the driving force behind the hack.

That context has not changed. So why has Sony suddenly changed its mind?

The embarrassment of having caved to Pyongyang might be one reason.

It made business sense to pull “The Interview” from full release – the owners of major theater chains had already said they wouldn’t screen the flick. Nobody in Hollywood wanted to drive fearful patrons away from cineplexes at the Christmas season.

But the abrupt nature of Sony’s original decision, and the thinly-veiled glee North Korea showed at the action, turned into a public relations debacle for Sony executives. A CNN poll found that 62 percent of Americans felt the company had “overreacted.”

Sony needed a way to make its retreat look less total. By showing the movie somewhere, Sony gets to say it has stood up to the bad guys, whether it really has or not. (See “free speech” statement above).

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Another reason the film will now light up the dark of the inside of an actual theater is money. Sony was staring at a loss of more than $100 million if it just ditched the movie entirely. Now it gets a chance to start a trickle of revenue flowing from the film. Given the publicity “The Interview” has received, that trickle could even turn into a flood once movie-goers become convinced it’s safe to buy a ticket.

But the biggest reason Sony swerved is probably this one: “The Interview” has become a national security issue. Against all odds and/or common sense, a risqué buddy comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco (or “James Flacco,” as President Obama said at last week’s press conference) has become a symbol of American freedom. The chief executive of the nation has said Sony made a mistake by not showing the movie. So they’ll show it – because Mr. Obama’s comments have effectively nationalized the movie’s defense.

We agree with Dave Smith at Business Insider on this one: Any physical attack on a theater screening the movie will in essence be “an act of war.” That means the primary response would come from the White House, not Sony’s executive suite.