The China Syndrome (James Bridges, 1979)
Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television reporter put on jobs about hot air balloons and carnavalesque info for the channel 3. It is clear in her boss’s mind that her looks and beautiful face goth er the job. But she knows she can do deep subject reports. One day she is asked to do a report on the Ventana Nuclear power plant with freelance cameraman Richard (Michael Douglas) and sound recording artist Hector (Daniel Valdez).
While being there in the control room an incident happens and even if they were asked to not film in the room, Richard records everything. The technical director on place Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) was sure that the incident was serious but the owners of the plant don’t want it to be known to the public or to stop their activities because it involves billions of dollars. Godell investigates and gets to the conclusion that there actually was a bigger problem than what the company stated.
The plot evolves around the cover up of the story and reflects many opinions that anti-Nuclear activists have feared. It is also an observation on what is actually hidden from the public to actually turn off the panic switch. It is not a film that fells into the conspiracy movie or into the paranoid angle of the thing. But it elevates questions and the debates about the Nuclear energy and its use. With a weaving of thriller films, it is as efficient as many other great films of the 1970’s like the films of Alan J. Pakula for example. Its use of the television media is original and well exploited in a time where sensationalism on the news were at their beginnings. Nowadays you can’t open the TV without this kind of portrayal of the news and info.
When one watches The China Syndrome it is hard to note take notice of Lemmon’s great performance and Fonda’s cold blooded mastery at continuing the family’s heritage of consistency and natural presence on the silver screen. Douglas is also noticeable in the maverick cameraman that boldly trespass any boundaries put in front of him.
Finally, it is amazing how this film was successful at the box-office and it was nominated for many awards; Cannes’ Palme d’Or, Best written screenplay directly to the screen and Best Leading actor (Lemmon) at the Academy Awards and how few times it is mentioned as one of the great films of the 1970’s. Well, as rich as the decade was, the second golden age of Hollywood, James Bridges’ film is quite memorable. Entertaining at most and gets you into the Nuclear debate.