DIRECTOR: James Bridges
May Contain Spoilers!
Enjoying the dubious luxury of being released just weeks before the Three-Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979, The China Syndrome is a small movie about a big subject. Produced by a young Michael Douglas, this is a movie which looks at the nuclear industry, the pros, the cons and the dangers if not treated as they must be. The film takes its time to establish the facts, which are that in real terms, if the rules and safeguards are applied, nuclear power is a safe method of producing energy whilst the film is actually sending an anti-nuclear message.
But like any convincing argument, this is won by being deceptively even-handed, telling us the facts that are pro-nuclear whilst playing out as a thriller, which shows how the energy corporations are prepared to cut costs and corners which result is near catastrophic malfunctions. The China Syndrome is what is more commonly referred to nowadays as a meltdown, in which the core is exposed and with nothing to cool or regulate it, it could theoretically burn through the earth, coming out in China, from America or course.
But the story is told along side that of the news crew who discover the dangers, lead by budding TV reporter, Jane Fonda, who is battling the sexist industry of the day and her free-lance cameraman, Michael Douglas who is determined to break the story which her network bosses are dubious to do because there is too little to go on.
The realism of the piece is pronounced, with a drama/documentary feel, it almost feels like a true story but it isn’t. The aesthetic is that of films such as All The President’s Men (1976) and Network (1976) but at the same time it’s neither. The China Syndrome is a bit of everything. thriller, drama, sudo-true story and documentary of the nuclear industry but it’s none of those things exclusively. But it works.
This is a masterful drama exposing the real issues of nuclear power whilst fairly allowing both sides to be heard. It wears its own take on its sleeve but it’s never in your face. But even after 34 years, nuclear disasters would rack up and this film’s relevance is never diminished, even with the latest disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, The China Syndrome is still a very real threat and in an age where nuclear energy is on the rise, this film may yet find a new audience. I hope so anyway because it is the one of, if not the foremost anti-nuclear film out there, along with more obscure classics such as The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1960).