Audiences embrace controversial film at Ocean Township theater

Staff Writer

OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Moviegoers proudly declared their patriotism as they visited the Middlebrook Galleria Cinema during the week of Christmas to view the controversial Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy, “The Interview.”

“How dare you tell Americans what they can and can’t do?” Barnegat resident Susan Ross, who traveled an hour to see the movie, said of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “It’s just very irritating. If he wants to be totally repressive in his country, that’s unfortunate. But it’s his country.”

The theater, located in Middlebrook Shopping Plaza, is one of the only theaters in the state — and the entire country — to screen the film.

On Dec. 23, the film’s official Facebook page announced the list of select theaters that would play “The Interview” on Christmas Day. Only six theaters in New Jersey were slated to screen the film, with the Middlebrook Galleria Cinema being the sole theater in the Central and South Jersey area.

According to Theater Manager Maurice Zuniga, the movie sold to packed houses.

“We want to show the movies no matter what … especially a silly movie like that,” he said. “It’s Seth Rogen. Seth Rogen is not somebody who’s all political and stuff. He’s just a guy who makes silly movies that make people laugh.”

“The Interview,” which tells the story of an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un, was pulled from major theater chains — such as AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas — when a group of hackers protesting the film threatened a 9/11-level attack at theaters showing the film.

Ultimately, American officials concluded that North Korea was involved in the hacking, according to The New York Times.

While it seemed as though audiences would never see the film, “The Interview” ended up being screened to select theaters, and was also made available by Sony Pictures Entertainment through digital platforms.

But many moviegoers still embraced the theatergoing experience, despite the risk that was attached to the film.

To be safe, Jan Silletti and her husband, Frank, waited until a few days after Christmas in order to see the film.

“We figured we would wait,” she said.

According to Zuniga, the theater took precautions to make sure the customers knew they could have a safe and comfortable experience.

“We’re just assuring customers that we are watching, and everything’s good,” Zuniga said. “No incidents here.”

Some customers, such as Katherine Epps, thought the film’s controversy was simply a publicity stunt.

“I think it’s a bunch of hoopla to sell tickets,” Epps said. “ … Anything’s possible in Hollywood.”

According to Ross, she wouldn’t have traveled the distance to Ocean Township from Barnegat, if not for the controversy.

“I’m sure it will be worth it,” Ross said as she entered the theater. “Just the fact that we can see it makes it worth it.”