Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Classic Film Flashback" - The China Syndrome (1979)

Second post in my Classic Film series

With all of the news stories concerning the nuclear plant issues in Japan, it made me think back to that classic film from the 1970's The China Syndrome.   For those of you born after the 70's or too old to remember what happened in the movie- here is a quick plot recap:

Jane Fonda is "Kimberly Wells", a news reporter for a local LA tv station.  She often gets the "puff" pieces like a story about singing telegrams that we see her reporting on as the film begins.  And even though she is a co-anchor on the nightly newscast, she isn't really taken seriously.   Her next assignment is another "lifestyle" piece about a Nuclear power plant for an "Energy in California" series of reports.   However, while at the plant, a strange occurrence happens in the control room that they have just been taken to visit.  They can't hear what is going on, as they are viewing the control room from a series of second floor viewing windows. But it seems the water level in one of the plant's reactors is dangerously low, and the shift supervisor (Jack Lemmom) though able to get the situation under control, seems very concerned about what is happening, especially since one of the gauges they use to monitor the water levels doesn't appear to be functioning correctly.  The freelance cameraman "Wells" brings with her, "Richard Adams" played by Michael Douglas, keeps filming the action in the control room through the glass windows, even though he is told by the plant's PR man to turn off his camera.

After the plant is under control, Fonda and Douglas leave the area and Douglas makes Fonda aware that he filmed the whole situation.  They both believe something is seriously wrong even though the plant is making the whole situation seem very routine.   However, Fonda can't get the station manager to let her show the film since they don't have rights to air it and Douglas, being the hot head he is, steals the film from the tv station so he can get the word out about the possible issues the plant might have.  Lemmon is also very concerned and starts doing some research of his own into the plant's construction.  That's the first 1/4 of the film, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in ethics, news reporting or just wants to watch a good classic thriller with good acting and writing and a very provocative, scary "real life" situation at it's core.  Put it in your Netflix queue now.

The three leads are especially good, with Lemmon a stand-out.   The emotions that he is able to show on his face during the possible plant melt-down are a good example for an acting class.  He remains calm but you can see the wheels turning in his brain to try to determine what he needs to do to save the plant and all of the people in it.  And, as far as what the title refers to, let's just say we should all hope we never hear those words mentioned - it is what they believe will happen if a nuclear core ever would melt.  It would melt into the earth, and though it might not actually melt all the way to China it would do so much damage that, as they say in the movie, it would basically wipe out an area the size of Pennsylvania.   Makes you seriously take another look at the benefits of nuclear energy, especially with what is happening in Japan.

The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Actress and Actor for Fonda and Lemmon, as well as best screenplay.  The film was also produced by Douglas and directed by James Bridges.

Two last comments - 1) less than two weeks after the film was released in 1979, the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania happened.  The plant experienced a partial core meltdown mainly due to human and system error that resulted in the release of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste water.

2) bringing this back to Broadway (all roads lead to Broadway, right?) - Jane Fonda was just on Broadway two years ago in a really great play called 33 Variations - and was nominated for a Tony for her work.  She also just starred in a 2 month run of the play in LA.   This is a really good play that combines a modern woman's research into Beethoven's "33 Variations on a Waltz" and Beethoven's creative process in composing that work.  If it ever comes to a town near you, catch it.

Trailer for the film -

Fan made film that speaks to the movie and the Three Mile Island accident -

Amazon link for the dvd - The China Syndrome (Special Edition)

Amazon link for the script of 33 Variations - 33 Variations

Amazon link for Beethoven's 33 Variation on a Waltz - Beethoven: 33 Variations in C on a Waltz

1 comment:

  1. Gil, This blog is amazing. You are a wealth of knowledge and the creativity and layout is exceptional. I will read it and feel like I've have been on Broadway as much as you. You are a truly gifted person and loving brother.