China Syndrome (the)
Everyone connected with "The China Syndrome" openly questioned the safety of nuclear power, but although undeniably political, the movie is a thriller that incidentally raises unsettling questions about nuclear power. Lucky for viewers, it's well-crafted and as scary as can be, with top-notch performances. The suspense mirrors our fears, heightened by our curiosity about how the characters will react.
Incidents leading to the accident depicted -- a stuck graph needle from which engineers misread a crucial water level -- actually happened, that one at the Dresden plant near Chicago. The central character, Godell (Lemmon), a shift supervisor at a big plant in Southern California, admits the plant is his life. But after an earthquake shakes the plant to its foundations, he realizes that the aftershocks aren't due to the earthquake but come from deep within the plant. The misdiagnosed water level is already dangerously low, and if the uranium pile it shields becomes exposed, the likely result is a "China syndrome" -- an unstoppable melting of superheated nuclear material that would burn through the plant's floor, and, in theory, through the Earth until it reached China, accompanied by one or more deadly explosions and the release of radioactive matter that would poison a huge area.
While a TV news team is filming a routine press release about the plant, cameraman (Douglas) secretly films the panicked control room during the earthquake, while newsreporter (Fonda) tries to squelch the story, because her superiors, won over by the power plant's smooth public relations staff, don't want it to air. But the more the two of them see of the accident, the worse it all seems. Meanwhile, obsessed by the second tremor, Godell (Lemmon) has made his own investigation, and finds that X-rays for checking key welds at the plant have been falsified. From there, the movie launches into a classic thriller, while director James Bridges uses exquisite timing and character development to bring us to a cliffhanger.
The performances are interesting; no character is painted as an anti-nuclear crusader; they are ordinary people trapped while trying to do their jobs. Fonda and Lemmon portray a pair of people each reluctant to rock the boat, but compelled to follow the command of conscience.
Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, and James Bridges.
Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Jack Lemmon
Three Mile Island, meltdown, nuclear power, Jane Fonda
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