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The China Syndrome (1979)

Jane Fonda , Jack Lemmon , James Bridges  |  PG |  DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton
  • Directors: James Bridges
  • Writers: James Bridges, Mike Gray, T.S. Cook
  • Producers: Michael Douglas, Bruce Gilbert, Jack Smith Jr., James M. Falkinburg
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Full Screen, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Georgian, Chinese, Thai
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: May 25, 1999
  • Run Time: 122 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00000IPG2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,986 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The China Syndrome" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

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) play

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There WAS A Vibration!!" November 15, 2004
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).
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Star August 31, 2001
By A Customer
This is one of my favorite movies. I have the 1999 DVD. (I'm not sure why another is needed; maybe more subtitles.) Mine has 1.85 anamorphic, letterbox, and 1.33 too. The transfer is good. The sound is mono; that on the one just out is a matter of dispute -- either mono or stereo, depending on what you read. (Amazon says mono.)
Yes, this movie has Lemmon, Fonda, et alii -- especially Wilford Brimley, whose performance impressed me a lot. But, maybe because I'm an engineer, I've always thought the real star was the nuclear power plant itself. The movie is, after all, about the safety of nuclear electrical power. The "Ventana" plant stands as a monolithic menace, dominating the movie. (The control room was based on the Trojan plant in Eugene, Oregon; I can't find out where the bowels-of-the-plant sets came from, or the external views.) That it is both loving and vengeful God is always apparent, true at the time of release and moreso today after Three-mile Island, Chernobyl, and especially the California electrical power crisis. The quantity and complexity of design and hardware necessary to run and control the plant are the base structure on which the story rides, giving the opportunities for mechanical failure and human fallibility and criminal chicanery with their consequent apocalyptic danger. (Mike Gray wrote the story in 1974 and 1975 stimulated by failures at the Dresden II reactor near Chicago in 1970 and the TVA's Brown's Ferry reactor in Alabama in 1975.)
The problem of energy sources is still with us. I feel that nuclear power is the way to go until a better way comes along, that civilization will demand it, even in our hyper-safety world. (Would cars, or even aspirin, make it if introduced today?) It might be sun, it won't be wind, and we'll run out of oil. The risks will be managed, and this movie will continue to have its place in the cautionary tales that guide the management.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Possibly The Best Film Of The Decade July 18, 2001
Format:VHS Tape
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!--
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but the fear remains. April 21, 2005
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.
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