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Richard Roeper: Faced with fear or courage on ‘The Interview,’ Sony caves

When Seth Rogen and his writing partners dreamed up a screenplay about a celebrity tabloid producer and host recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un, I’ll bet they didn’t see this coming.

In what has be a first in the history of American cinema, the top theater chains in the country decided not to play a movie due to threats — and then Sony announced it wouldn’t be releasing the movie in ANY theater.

Remember 9/11, and Rudy Giuliani pleading with us to come back to New York and show our support? Remember all that talk about how if we give in to threats, the terrorists will have won? Remember what FDR said? “The only thing we have to fear … is fear itself”?

Wednesday afternoon, U.S. officials said they believe the North Korean government was behind the hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

If the mission was to shut down the release of “The Interview,” humiliate Sony and make it seem like a lot of people will indeed retreat in the face of a possible threat, it was an extremely successful mission. Disgusting.

Sony was obviously worried after the massive hack on its database. It’s a company in disarray, running scared.

And yes, theater owners were put in a tough spot. Even if moviegoers weren’t intending to see “The Interview,” some might stay away from any multiplex showing the film. If you’re already afraid, you’re not going to feel that much better just because you’re seeing “Into the Woods” in Theater 11 while “The Interview” is playing in Theater 12.

In 1940, Charlie Chaplin made a movie about a Hitler-like figure. You may have heard of it. It was called “The Great Dictator.” I guess if cyber-threats existed back in the day, nobody would have ever seen that movie.

A screening of “The Interview” had been set for Chicago area critics on Thursday evening. That screening has been canceled. I still would have attended the screening and reviewed the film had I been given the chance. It’s quite possible “The Interview” will be available on home video at some point, and I’d like to be able to tell you if it’s actually worth seeing.

In the meantime, some chilling thoughts to ponder. “The Interview” is a relatively small social satire. What happens if cyber-thugs threaten to kill people who attend a $200 million Hollywood blockbuster? Will a studio back down and eat the cost of a film like that?

And what if a similar threat is made on people who shop at a national big-box store? Should the stores not open?

When I blasted Sony’s decision on Twitter, a number of respondents said a Seth Rogen comedy wasn’t worth someone getting hurt.

Not the point. This isn’t about one relatively small film. It’s about freedom. It’s about not backing down from threats.

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1755.

This was one of the saddest days in the history of the American cinema.