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'The Interview' Attracts Movie Fans, Free Speech Advocates

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

"The Interview" is in theaters and available on video on demand. This is the movie that was pulled because of a massive hack at Sony Pictures and also threats against theaters. A few hundred, mostly independent and arthouse, theaters did debut the film Christmas Day. And NPR's Sam Sanders went to a midnight screening.

UNIDENTIFIED CAROLERS: (Singing) Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock...

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: For their midnight screening of "The Interview," Cinefamily Theater brought in Christmas carolers and American flags. There were also three security guards and a guy dressed up as an Uncle Sam Santa and even free hot cider. It had the energy of a tailgate party and the Hollywood excess of, well, Hollywood. Mickey Ramos says she was there to stand up for free speech, and that was worth a late-night.

MICKEY RAMOS: Totally excited, are you kidding? I only have like four hours of sleep before I have to go home and deal with my parents tomorrow because of this, so yeah, I'm looking forward to this. It's worth the effort and being tired all day tomorrow.

SANDERS: Inside the theater, a special guest, Seth Rogen himself, star of "The Interview." He only got the crowd more amped.

SETH ROGEN: ...We just really wanted to say thank you. If it wasn't for theaters like this and for people like you guys, this literally would not be [bleep] happening right now.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Rogen's talking about arthouse and independent theater owners who showed the film after lots of big chains wouldn't. But they still got "The Interview" one day after the film was released online. That's a rare move for a major picture. But Cinefamily executive director Hadrian Belove says he's not worried about that online competition.

HADRIAN BELOVE: I think a big mistake a lot of theaters make is they think they're competing with television or Netflix or websites - you're not. You're competing with birthday parties and music concerts and comedy clubs. And if you haven't done a good enough job about making it fun to go to the movies, you've got a bigger problem than any particular movie being on VOD or not.

SANDERS: But the big theater chains approach things differently, according to USC film school's Jason Squire.

JASON SQUIRE: Opening in theaters of the same day making the movie available in VOD is something that the theater chains resist.

SANDERS: Squire is the editor of "The Movie Business Book." He says big chains rely on big movies that play in their theaters for weeks before going elsewhere. And that might explain why they still aren't agreeing to show "The Interview." The big chains haven't said much since the online release, but Squire says...

SQUIRE: All theater chains are cautiously watching the experiment. The question is what will the results be?

SANDERS: Critics are so-so on "The Interview." But back at Cinefamily, Vanessa Valdez and Felicity Heath gave the film a fairly positive review.

VANESSA VALDEZ: Yeah, it's really good.

FELICITY HEATH: I mean, it was what it was. It was expected to be silly and ridiculous, but it was fun.

VALDEZ: Ridiculousness - 10.

SANDERS: Ridiculous or not, "The Interview" is here. And after all the drama, it's the moviegoers now who finally get their say. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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