The China Syndrome

Even though it’s screenplay was based on various real life incidents, when “The China Syndrome” was released in 1979, it was a work of fiction. All that changed within two weeks of its release when Three Mile Island mirrored the events in the film. Lucky for Columbia Pictures. Unlucky for people who lived near the nuclear facility.

chinasyndromedvdcoverPeople flocked to theaters to see the film that literally sprung from the headlines, and “The China Syndrome” went on to become a box office hit and garnered numerous Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Actress. Those nominations went to Jack Lemmon, who played the on-site supervisor of a questionable nuclear facility, and Jane Fonda, who won accolades for her portrayal of a television news reporter from goes from a fluff to hard core news reporting overnight.

The two are brought together when reporter Kimberly Wells (Fonda) is assigned to visit the Ventana nuclear facility to do a human interest piece on energy. Accompanied by her trusted camera man (Michael Douglas), Wells tapes what is basically a PR piece. Then a minor accident becomes a full blown emergency, all secretly captured on film. When Wells returns to her station with the exclusive, her efforts are stopped by the station legal department and trouble shooters from Ventana.

It doesn’t take long before Wells and company suspect a cover-up, and begin their own investigation on what the film reveals. Meanwhile, plant supervisor Jack Godall (Lemmon) begins his own investigation, and learns that the plant may not be as sound as the experts declare it to be. What makes all of this matter are the terrific performances, the top-flight screenplay that is both suspenseful and intelligent, and the skillful direction of James Bridges. The screenplay by Bridges, Mike Gray and T.S. Cook incorporates real-life incidents into the framework, and its there little touches that make the film so powerful. It’s easy to relate to the characters and their situations, especially Lemmon, who creates a character stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You can see the anguish in his character as he tries desperately to maintain his company loyalty against all odds. Fonda pegs the television reporter role perfectly, while Douglas (who also produced) is fine as the renegade camera man. The supporting cast is excellent, including Wilford Brimley as Godall’s friend and co-worker who understands how the system works. Technically, the film looks authentic. That is what makes it so scary.

Even at its most theatrical, the film hits home. Filled with riveting situations and engaging performances, “The China Syndrome” holds up after 20 years because its message is still vital.


VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Clean digital transfer delivered in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions. The DVD also features a full frame version on the flip side. The widescreen transfer looks marvelous, with flattering flesh tones and vivid colors that never look washed out. Blacks are strong but not definitive. Thanks to a clean negative (there is a minute amount of flecking), the picture looks clean, with good depth of field and attention to detail. No visible compression artifacts or noise.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Functional Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack perfectly captures the original theatrical experience. No audio hiss or distortion. Good dialogue mix and clean high and low ends.

ORAL: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing, plus subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Handsome main and scene access menus, plus the film’s original theatrical trailer and a handful of cast and crew filmographies and production notes.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Nice transfer of a great movie.

VITALS: $29.98/Rated PG/121 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#01599




HMO: Columbia-TriStar Home Video

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