Down From the Shelf ~ The China Syndrome

The Facts:

Synopsis: A reporter finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant.

Stars: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Wilford Brimley

Director: James Bridges

Rated: PG

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Nuclear power was a major talking point as the 70’s were drawing to a close with the its safety the overall point of concern.  How ironic that just thirteen days after this was released the disaster at Three Mile Island occurred and was eerily in line with the events depicted in the movie.  I can’t remember a time in my life that Hollywood fiction had been so closely tied to reality which I’m sure blurred the lines.  Was The China Syndrome fact?  Fiction?  A mixture of the two?  I’m sure it helped the box office for the movie and it catapulted it to loads of free publicity (not that I think any of the people involved in the film took any pleasure in it). 

Fonda, Lemmon, and Douglas (who also produced and stepped in front of the camera at the last minute) provide the main voices of the film.  Fonda is a television journalist sick of covering fluff pieces and realizing that she needs to get a good story to be taken seriously.  Douglas is her cameraman with an agenda of his own.  When they go to a California nuclear plant for an innocent story they end up witnessing /filming an ‘event’ that no one can seem to give them a straight answer on.  Lemmon is the plant worker that can see the danger but no one will listen to. 

Describing it now the plot seems awfully cliché but remember this was released at a time where many people were unfamiliar with the danger of nuclear power.  While not a fully educational film it did shed light on what nuclear power was and what the China Syndrome is actually referring to.  Bridges stages these tense moments with a great knack for making staring at a diagnostic screen an edge-of-your-seat affair.  Yes, some of it is hopelessly trapped in the 70’s style of filmmaking but the overall impact of the piece is still there. 

I’d tried several times to get into this movie, all with less than satisfying results.  This time around, however, it really captured my attention from the get-go and provided splendid entertainment.  I think it still serves as a great wake-up call to the public, even if you fear what the consequences of our harnessing nuclear power could entail.