The China Syndrome - Special Edition  (REGION 1) (NTSC) [DVD] [US Import]
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James Bridges (Urban Cowboy, Bright Lights, Big City) directed this 1979 film that became a worldwide sensation when, just weeks after its release, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred. Jane Fonda (Klute, Julia) plays a television news reporter who is not taken very seriously until a routine story at the local nuclear power plant leads her to what may be a cover-up of epic proportions. She and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas (Wall Street, American President), hook up with a whistleblower at the plant, played by Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger, Missing). Together they try to uncover the dangers lurking beneath the nuclear reactor and avoid being silenced by the business interests behind the plant. Though topical, The China Syndrome (produced by Douglas) works on its own as a socially conscious thriller that entertains even as it spurs its audience to think. --Robert Lane --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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THE CHINA SYNDROME holds the nuclear power industry to account as a potentially disastrous nuclear "event" is surreptitiously captured by news reporter Jane Fonda and her maverick cameraman Michael Douglas. Throughout the film, Jack Lemmon's by-the-book power station supervisor slowly unravels, wrestling with his conscience before deciding he must blow the whistle on the dubious tactics being employed by the power station's owners to conceal the severity of what actually happened.
It goes without saying that Fonda, Douglas and Lemmon each give fine performances, with Fonda's Kimberley Wells character also providing the platform with which to take a number of satirical swipes at the broadcast news industry and in particular its attitude towards women.
The Region One edition of THE CHINA SYNDROME is the one which the movie's British fans will want to possess as it includes an excellent two-part documentary discussing the making of the movie and its subsequent impact, particularly as the film seemed to uncannily predict the nuclear accident on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which occurred a couple of weeks after the movie opened in cinemas. The docmentary includes considerable input from both Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas and their ongoing belief in the THE CHINA SYNDROME's message is undiminished more than 30 years later.
All in all this is an excellent DVD release for one of the great conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Kimberley Wells, the eye candy on a local TV station, wants to be a real reporter, and by chance, in the course of a visit to a nuclear plant as part of a shallow series on "energy" she and her cameraman Richard Adams (Michael Douglas) are in the plant when there is an accident. The danger is contained, and the management put out the word that there was never any danger -- but Richard has been surreptitiously filming throughout the visit, and he and Kimberley know that the company is covering up a serious situation. Even Godell is happy at first to keep what happened off the evening news, but as he digs deeper into the incident and realizes the extent of the problems and the dangers they pose, he finds himself in alliance with the news reporters, and we see even the TV station bigwigs realizing that infotainment is going to have to take a back seat to this story.
Once Kimberley, Richard, and Godell team up, then the power company is out to stop them before they can reveal anything. There are car chases, and threats, and guns, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll say no more about that. What I thought really effective was the end of the film -- there's a lot of time where Fonda and Lemmon are in the plant waiting for film crews to show up that are as uncinematic and plausibly awkward as something you might find in rejected documentary footage. Both of these actors are capable of delivering eloquent public-service-type credos and get their chance elsewhere in the movie, but the ending is played just right, I think. At the very end, there's a fine scene where a frazzled Fonda tries to take over a news conference from a slick company man. She gets on the air but looks frazzled and can't say all she needs or wants to say, and how effective she has been is an open question that this movie doesn't try to resolve. Fonda and Lemmon do fine work in the closing scenes. Michael Douglas and Wilford Brimley have their moments in more predictable roles, and the smoothies who run the corporations are appropriately slick and slimy. The movie lacks the panache of "Network," but like that movie it's prescient about the trivialization of news and the power of money. It plays as well today as it did in 1979.
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