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The China Syndrome
The China Syndrome
Actors: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton
Director: James Bridges
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
PG     1999     2hr 2min

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)...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton
Director: James Bridges
Creators: Michael Douglas, James Bridges, Bruce Gilbert, Jack Smith Jr., James Nelson, Mike Gray, T.S. Cook
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Disaster Films, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 05/25/1999
Original Release Date: 03/16/1979
Theatrical Release Date: 03/16/1979
Release Year: 1999
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Screens: Color,Full Screen,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Georgian, Chinese, Thai
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Member Movie Reviews

Reviewed on 9/6/2022...
Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas and others shine bright in this slow burn plotline that builds up to an explosive ending! A must watch!

Movie Reviews

"There WAS A Vibration!!"
David Von Pein | Mooresville, Indiana; USA | 11/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Review of "The China Syndrome: Special Edition" DVD .............................

"The China Syndrome" first appeared in theaters around the USA on March 16, 1979. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, just twelve days later, on March 28th, the worst nuclear accident in United States history occurred at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The real-life incident at Three Mile Island was, in many ways, identical to the plot of the movie. An incorrect reading of equipment at Three Mile Island made the plant's operators THINK, in error, that there was more water covering the core of the power plant than there actually was -- just exactly what we see unfold on the screen in "The China Syndrome".

Another extremely eerie "coincidence" between the real event and the motion picture is a line of dialogue that was written for the film, and is one of the most chilling lines in the picture, where a nuclear expert is explaining that, if an explosion had occurred at the fictional "Ventana" nuclear facility, it could have "rendered an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable". Rather remarkable that the filmmakers chose the state of "Pennsylvania" for their catastrophic "example" here, huh? When just days after debuting it would, indeed, be that exact state facing potential disaster.

"The China Syndrome", which grossed over 35.7 million dollars in U.S. theaters, is an outstanding drama starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, and Michael Douglas. The tense script keeps you on tenterhooks throughout the film, despite the lack of any musical score or background music of any kind. The only music in the whole film resides at the beginning (as the credits roll). The ending credits roll silently -- with only dead silence accompanying them (which is, quite possibly, even MORE powerful and effective here, given what we've just seen in the movie, than if a rousing musical theme were to have been utilized at the end of the film).

"The China Syndrome" was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Lemmon) and Best Actress (Fonda). Neither of them won. Lemmon was bested by "Kramer vs. Kramer's" Dustin Hoffman; while Fonda was beaten by Sally Field ("Norma Rae").

I've always thought that this film should have not only been nominated for Best Picture of 1979, but it should have won that honor as well. But it was "Kramer vs. Kramer" that took the prize that year. A shame, too -- because I feel "The China Syndrome" was/is a far better film than "Kramer". But, hey, that's just my own view on the subject.

A fine companion video to this DVD is "Meltdown At Three Mile Island" (a 1999 documentary from PBS Home Video). After watching both the movie and that PBS documentary program, you'll notice even more correlation between the real-life Pennsylvania accident and the fictional film -- such as the amazing similarity in the look of the control room. The REAL Three Mile Island control room looks just exactly like the control room we see in the movie. The filmmakers obviously did a very good job when it came to replicating the details of a real nuclear power plant.

This single-disc DVD "Special Edition" was released by Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment on October 26, 2004, and comes complete with a great-looking Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, plus some nice special features to boot.

Here's a rundown of the Bonus Features on this disc ...............................

>> Two excellent Laurent Bouzereau-produced documentaries on the making of the movie (lasting nearly one hour combined) -- "The China Syndrome: A Fusion Of Talent" (run time of 27:33) and "The China Syndrome: Creating A Controversy" (29:31).

New interviews with Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda (and some others) fill up these informative documentary supplements, with some really interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits being revealed during these two bonus programs. Plus some discussion of the relationship between the film and the Three Mile Island accident that closely followed, which made the film's popularity skyrocket.

One interesting hunk of trivia concerning star Jack Lemmon that came out in the "Fusion" featurette that I'd never realized is that Jack had apparently put some other movie roles "on hold" for well over a year in order to finally begin work on "The China Syndrome" (which started filming on January 16, 1978).

Another fun part of the "Controversy" documentary is a humorous outtake showing Jane Fonda trying to run while wearing those shoes with the seemingly mile-high heels (which we see her wearing in several scenes during the film). She had trouble running from one place to another in this outtake, and ultimately trips over her own feet while declaring "I'm like a cripple!" (LOL!)

An additional piece of info gleaned is regarding the music (or lack of) for the movie. There *was* originally a musical score written for the film. But Producer Michael Douglas, and others, quickly learned that the movie would be much better served by completely eliminating any music score -- and simply have the "real sounds" of the power-plant control room serve as the film's "music" (in a way). We hear the clicking of dials, the beeping of alarms, horns blaring their warnings, and the sounds of the computer's printer as it prints out the info the power-plant workers need. All of these "real" sounds took a back seat to the music, and it was soon discovered that the music "ruins the reality of the film" (a quote from one of this DVD's supplemental programs). Therefore, the filmmakers decided to take a chance and scrap the idea of any music in the picture. A wise move, too, IMHO.

These Making-Of features also could serve as a "Photo Gallery" of still images. Many behind-the-camera pics are shown throughout these well-put-together bonus programs.

The two mini-documentaries are shown in the Full-Frame aspect ratio (1.33:1), and feature English-only Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound and subtitles in Japanese only. (Why they chose only Japanese subtitling here, I have no idea.)

>> 3 "Deleted Scenes" (total time = 3:52). .... None of these short scenes adds much of anything to the story at hand. It's understandable why they were cut out. A "Play All" option is included here.

>> 3 Theatrical Trailers ("Previews"), but not one of them is for "The China Syndrome". This seems especially odd (and disappointing), because the previously-released DVD of this flick *does* include the film's trailer. But, instead, this "SE" disc offers up three trailers for other films: "The Fog Of War", "Fail-Safe", and "Secret Window". However, a portion of one of the original 1979 trailers for "The China Syndrome" is included in the "Creating A Controversy" documentary on this disc. But not the full trailer.

>> Text-only Filmographies for Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, and Jane Fonda --- and Director James Bridges.

Additional DVD data concerning "The China Syndrome: Special Edition":

Video -- Widescreen only (1.85:1 aspect ratio); enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Available Audio Tracks -- Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English), and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French).

Audio Commentary Tracks? -- No. .... Too bad too. Because a multi-person Commentary Track (with Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and writer Mike Gray) would have been quite interesting I have a feeling.

Subtitles -- English, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.

Main Feature Running Time -- 122 minutes.

Number of Chapter Breaks -- 28.

Paper Enclosure? -- Yes, a one-sheet (two-sided) insert. But it does not contain a Chapter List. If you happen to have the older DVD edition of "The China Syndrome" (released in May of 1999), you can use that disc's 4-page booklet as a Chapter Guide for this newer "SE" version. Both DVDs have the scenes divided up in the same places throughout the movie (and the descriptive titles/blurbs for each chapter are identical on each disc). In addition to including a Chapter Listing, the older disc's mini-booklet insert also contains some informative Production Notes and backstory concerning the film.


Parting Thoughts ........

"The China Syndrome" is one of my all-time favorite movies, and in my view one of the best thrillers/dramas in all of movie-making history. It has a mesmerizing storyline, great acting, a very good cast of starring and supporting characters, and a first-class, heart-pounding ending. I'd suggest reserving a slot on the shelf for this Special Edition DVD. Even if you already have the previous DVD edition of this movie, it's worth upgrading to the "SE" for the one-hour's worth of excellent bonus documentaries located on this newer version."
Dated, but the fear remains.
D. Knouse | vancouver, washington United States | 04/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The idea of a potential nuclear meltdown is and always will be absolutely terrifying. That is the main reason this film has lost little of its impact. I first saw this film when I was a young teenager, and back then I took no notice of the depth of the acting or the political nuances strewn throughout the film. The acting is excellent all around, but the best performance comes once again from Jack Lemmon. It is truly mesmerizing to see him at the beginning of the film as a steadfast employee making excuses for the 'accident' that even he pretends to believe; and then his gradual decline through doubt, suspicion, fearful revelation, and absolute panic. His performance here is one of the best of the 1970s. However, the story and direction take on a "Liberal Hippies against The Man" feel frequently, the bad guys being heartless bureaucrats without families or moral character. In this story they are painted as scoundrels who care about nothing else other than the proverbial 'bottom line.' I certainly hope those in charge of nuclear facilities are never this careless, especially to the point of attempted murder for monetary gain. Even though the ideas within this film lean heavily to the left, there is no denying that it is a well-made, well-acted film. In fact, alongside "Jaws" I consider "The China Syndrome" to be one of the few truly scary films to come out of the 1970s. The look and feel of this film is sometimes dated, but the threat of a nuclear meltdown remains a fearful reality. Recommended."
Quite Possibly The Best Film Of The Decade
David Von Pein | Mooresville, Indiana; USA | 07/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A funny thing about this excellent motion picture experience -- I must have watched this film 3 or 4 times before realizing that there was absolutely no music in it whatsoever! (Except for Stephen Bishop's "Somewhere In Between", played as the titles roll.) Now THAT, I believe, is a real tribute to the story and the acting in this film. It doesn't require ANY music. Jack Lemmon was never better than in this role as a scared-stiff nuclear power plant worker. He is simply riveting in this. --10 Stars!--"