Thursday, January 27, 2011


(March 1979, U.S.)

Initially, I had no interest in seeing THE CHINA SYNDROME when it was released. But one day I found myself in a movie theater at age 12 sitting through a second run double feature of this film and AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (the movie I really wanted to see!). Thank goodness for unexpected pleasant surprises because the film is an excellent thriller that deals with the truth behind a news reporter (played by Jane Fonda), a cameraman (played by Michael Douglas) and a nuclear power plant supervisor (played by Jack Lemmon) who discover safety coverups at the plant after unexpectedly witnessing (and filming) an accident in progress during a routine tour of the facilities. As expected, in a story like this, the news team are the good guys on the side of truth and righteousness and the men in suits that run the billion-dollar establishment behind nuclear power are the bad guys.

Thinking of this film over 30 years after its release inspires not so much thought in the film itself but a different set of considerations altogether; in this century of global terrorism and a bad economy, do we even worry about nuclear power and potential consequences of radiation anymore? Has the world even experienced a nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986? When's the last time you saw a "No Nukes" rally covered on television? But what really sits on my brian more than the film itself is the frightening manner in which life imitated art in this instance. For those who are unaware, twelve days after THE CHINA SYNDROME was released in 1979, there was a nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island Plant in Pennsylvania. There's actually a line in the film spoken by a physicist who says that the China Syndrome would render "an area the size of Pennsylvania" permanently uninhabitable". Scary thought, isn't it? While some credit the accident's timing with helping to sell box office tickets, Columbia Pictures attempted to avoid appearing as if it were exploiting the accident, including pulling the film from some theaters. A movie studio that cared - go figure!

By the way, the title THE CHINA SYNDROME refers to the concept that, if an American nuclear plant melts down, the core will melt through the Earth until it reaches China. China is really a metaphor because the opposite side of the globe from the United States is actually the Indian Ocean.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Greg Minor: "I may be wrong, but I'd say you're lucky to be alive. For that matter, I think we might say the same for the rest of Southern California."

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