IMDb > The China Syndrome (1979)
The China Syndrome
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The China Syndrome (1979) More at IMDbPro »

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Overview

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Up 75% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
Director:
Writers:
Mike Gray (written by) &
T.S. Cook (written by) ...
(more)
Contact:
View company contact information for The China Syndrome on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
16 March 1979 (USA) See more »
Genre:
Tagline:
Today, only a handful of people know what it means... Soon you will know. See more »
Plot:
A reporter finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. Full summary » | Full synopsis »
Awards:
Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 11 nominations See more »
User Reviews:
"And Power's What It's All About" See more (92 total) »

Cast

  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

Jane Fonda ... Kimberly Wells

Jack Lemmon ... Jack Godell

Michael Douglas ... Richard Adams
Scott Brady ... Herman De Young

James Hampton ... Bill Gibson
Peter Donat ... Don Jacovich

Wilford Brimley ... Ted Spindler

Richard Herd ... Evan McCormack
Daniel Valdez ... Hector Salas
Stan Bohrman ... Pete Martin

James Karen ... Mac Churchill
Michael Alaimo ... Greg Minor
Donald Hotton ... Dr. Lowell
Khalilah Ali ... Marge
Paul Larson ... D.B. Royce
Ron Lombard ... Barney
Tom Eure ... Tommy

Nick Pellegrino ... Borden
Daniel Lewk ... Donny
Allan Chinn ... Holt
Martin Fiscoe ... Control Guard
Alan Kaul ... TV Director
Michael Mann ... TV Consultant
David Eisenbise ... Technical Director
Frank Cavestani ... News Reporter
Reuben Collins ... Sportscaster
E. Hampton Beagle ... Mort
David Pfeiffer ... David

Lewis Arquette ... Hatcher
Dennis McMullen ... Robertson
Rita Taggart ... Rita Jacovich
James Hall ... Harmon

Carol Schlanger ... Waitress (as Carol Helvey)
Trudy Lane ... Alma Spindler
Jack Smith Jr. ... Tom
David Arnsen ... KXLA Cameraman
Betty Harford ... Woman at Demonstration
Donald Bishop ... Hearings Chairman
Al Baietti ... Pro-Nuclear Witness
Diandra Morrell ... Sasha
Darrell Larson ... Young Demonstrator
Roger Pancake ... Gate Guard
Joe Lowry ... Security Agent
Harry M. Williams ... Fire Rescue
Dennis Barker ... Jaws of Life
Joseph Garcia ... Highway Patrolman
James Kline ... Jim
Alan Beckwith ... Technician
Clay Hodges ... SWAT Squad Leader
Val Clenard ... Val Clenard
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Peter Paul Eastman ... Reporter (uncredited)
Robert S. Woods ... (uncredited)

Directed by
James Bridges 
 
Writing credits
Mike Gray (written by) &
T.S. Cook (written by) and
James Bridges (written by)

Produced by
Michael Douglas .... producer
James M. Falkinburg .... associate producer (as James Nelson)
Bruce Gilbert .... executive producer
Penny McCarthy .... assistant producer
Jack Smith Jr. .... assistant producer
 
Cinematography by
James Crabe (director of photography)
 
Film Editing by
David Rawlins (edited by)
 
Casting by
Sally Dennison 
 
Production Design by
George Jenkins 
 
Set Decoration by
Arthur Jeph Parker 
 
Costume Design by
Donfeld 
 
Makeup Department
Bernadine M. Anderson .... makeup artist: Ms. Fonda (as Bernadine Anderson)
Kaye Pownall .... hairstylist (as Kay Pownall)
Don Schoenfeld .... makeup artist
 
Production Management
James M. Falkinburg .... unit production manager (as James Nelson)
James A. Dennett .... production manager (uncredited)
 
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Kim Kurumada .... first assistant director
Barrie M. Osborne .... second assistant director (as Barrie Osborne)
Joel Chernoff .... second unit director (uncredited)
 
Art Department
Rafael Caro .... art department staff
Rick Carter .... art department staff (as Richard Carter Jr.)
Joseph Hurley .... art department staff (as Joe Hurley)
Terry E. Lewis .... property master (as Terry Lewis)
William Maldonado .... construction coordinator
Richard McKenzie .... art department staff
Rudy Reachi .... assistant prop man
Ray Villalobos Sr. .... paint foreman (as Reynaldo Villalobos)
R. Chris Westlund .... lead man (as Chris Westlund)
S. Bruce Wineinger .... construction foreman (as Bruce Wineinger)
William Ladd Skinner .... set designer (uncredited)
 
Sound Department
Fred J. Brown .... sound effects editor (as Fred Brown)
Willie D. Burton .... sound mixer (as Willie Burton)
Gene Corso .... sound effects editor
Les Fresholtz .... re-recording mixer (as Lester Fresholtz)
Marvin E. Lewis .... boom operator (as Marvin Lewis)
Mary McGlone .... sound effects editor
Michael Minkler .... sound re-recording mixer
Lorane Mitchell .... sound effects editor
Arthur Piantadosi .... re-recording mixer
Samuel C. Crutcher .... assistant sound editor (uncredited)
 
Special Effects by
Bruce Mattox .... special effects assistant
Henry Millar Jr. .... special effects
 
Visual Effects by
Peter Anderson .... visual effects
Richard Edlund .... miniature photography
Michael L. Fink .... electronic consultant (as Mike Fink)
Richard E. Hollander .... electronic consultant (as Richard Hollander)
James F. Liles .... special photographic effects
Matthew Yuricich .... matte paintings
Stuart Ziff .... electronic effects
 
Stunts
Bob Harris .... stunt coordinator (as Bobby Harris)
Carey Loftin .... stunt coordinator
Hubie Kerns Jr. .... stunt driver (uncredited)
Bryce Guy Williams .... stunt double: Jack Lemmon (uncredited)
 
Camera and Electrical Department
James O. Blair .... gaffer (as James Blair)
Robert Duggan .... best boy grip
Robert Isenberg .... camera assistant
Hal Landaker .... video consultant
Tom Prophet Jr. .... key grip
Daryl Smith .... best boy electric
Peter Sorel .... still photographer
Mike Sweeten .... camera operator
Reynaldo Villalobos .... second camera (as Ray Villalobos)
 
Casting Department
Stanzi Stokes .... assistant casting (as Stanzi Foster)
 
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Aggie Guerard Rodgers .... costumer: ladies (as Agnes Rodgers)
Eddie Marks .... costumer: men (as Edward Marks)
 
Editorial Department
Francesca Emerson .... assistant editor
 
Music Department
Jim Henrikson .... music editor
Francesca Emerson .... assistant music editor (uncredited)
Dan Wallin .... score mixer (uncredited)
 
Transportation Department
Eddie Baken .... transportation captain
Craig Pinkard .... transportation coordinator
 
Other crew
Marty P. Ewing .... production assistant (as Marty Ewing)
Debbie Getlin .... assistant: Mr. Bridges (as Deborah Getlin)
Richard Holley .... helicopter pilot (as Rick Holley)
Alan Kaul .... technical advisor: news
Ronnie Kramer .... production secretary
Doe Mayer .... video sequences designer
Ramon Pahoyo .... craft service (as Ramone Pahoyo)
Eileen Peterson .... publicist
Ken Ryan .... production auditor (as Kenneth Ryan)
Marshall Schlom .... script supervisor
Gayle Simon .... researcher
Teddy Stewart .... researcher
Douglas E. Stoll .... location manager (as Douglas Stall)
Richard Thomason .... helicopter pilot
 
Crew verified as complete


Production Companies
  • IPC Films (as A Michael Douglas/IPC Films Production/A James Bridges Film)
DistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
Runtime:
122 min
Country:
Language:
Color:
Color (Metrocolor)
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Company:

Did You Know?

Trivia:
To prepare for his role as a TV cameraman, actor Michael Douglas did the news rounds with various television photographers one of whom was Bob Brown who later died in the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana.See more »
Goofs:
Revealing mistakes: In the scene where Hector's car is forced over the cliff you can see that the gas tank has been removed when his car stops tumbling.See more »
Quotes:
Jack Godell:What makes you think they're looking for a scapegoat?
Ted Spindler:Tradition.
See more »
Movie Connections:
Referenced in Jurassic Park (1993)See more »
Soundtrack:
Somewhere in BetweenSee more »

FAQ

Why isn't Richard allowed to film the control room from the visitor's center?
How does the movie end?
What is the "China Syndrome"?
See more »
71 out of 89 people found the following review useful.
"And Power's What It's All About", 2 March 1999
Author: Michael Coy (michael.coy@virgin.net) from London, England

Made in the same year as the Three Mile Island incident, "The China Syndrome" posits a core meltdown in a Californian nuclear plant. What if contractors, driven by profit, omit to x-ray all the welded joints in a power station's water pumps? What if contaminated water leaches into the environment? What if faulty instruments indicate that reactor rods are being cooled, when in fact they are exposed, and generating uncontainable heat?

The film is also a dissertation on the power of the media to shape our awareness. In the opening sequence we see images of Kimberly Wells, the Channel 3 news presenter, but we hear the disembodied voices of directors controlling the newscast. Powerful, unseen people decide what we can see. There are also mishearings and broken links - TV is an imperfect medium and the wrong information can easily be conveyed. "Hey! Hey! Is anybody listening to me?" asks Kimberly. It is a metaphor for the whole film.

Kimberly and a freelance cameraman, Richard Adams, drive out to the Ventana power plant to shoot some routine feature footage. During their visit, an earth tremor causes a 'scram', an emergency alert in the plant's control room. Flouting regulations, Adams surreptitiously films the panic.

Kimberly and Richard (Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas) make a harmonious team. As they head along the freeway to the accompaniment of the opening music we see them sharing a soft drink, nodding in agreement and mirroring each other's hand gestures. Later, when events force them in divergent directions, the issues will seem clearer for us because we have seen the team co-operating closely.

For the first three-quarters of this film, I was rejoicing that for once a Hollywood project was dealing with a real issue rather than relying on guns and police cars. "The China Syndrome" shows that social and political conflict can be gripping on the big screen, even more gripping than the action genre. Imagine my disappointment, then, when in the final stretch the movie lost its nerve and turned to guns and police cars. For all that, the thing was worth doing. Michael Douglas, an actor-producer in the tradition of his father, had the courage to make a feature film about the seemingly unpromising subject of the hazards of nuclear energy. he is to be commended for that.

Jack Lemon is wonderful as Jack Godell, the middle-manager with a conscience. He is introduced into the story during the earth tremor, and he alone notices the secondary shudder which spells potential disaster. We see in his thoughtful, careworn face a gradual realisation that something is terribly wrong. It is this growing awareness, and Godell's honest desire to do something about it, which provide the engine of the plot. Godell is torn between his innate sense of fairness and a sincere loyalty to his industry. "I love that plant," he says, and he means it. During the tremor crisis, the camera's focus is thrown from Kimberly and Richard in the observation gallery to Godell on the control room floor. It is he, not the media, who will be the battleground on which this conflict will be fought.

The secondary strand of the plot concerns Kimberly's place in the TV news industry. Don Jacovich, the channel boss, wants to steer her away from hard news and restrict her to anodyne stories about animals and children. "You're better off doing the softer stuff," he tells her. She was hired for her looks, not for her analytical powers. When she raises the subject of the clandestine filming of the 'scram', she is told not to worry her pretty little head about it. "She is a performer," says Jacovich (Peter Donat), strongly implying that thinking forms no part of her duties.

When Kimberly tries to follow up the Ventana story, her very celebrity gets in the way. Autograph hunters in the local bar make it impossible for her to interview Godell properly. At the end, her dual role as a participant in, and reporter of, events culminates in an emotional broadcast during which she concedes, "I'm sorry - I'm not very objective."

When a news station acquires 'hot' footage, should it screen the material, regardless of consequences, on the basis of public interest? Richard provokes this debate by letting his camera roll inside the plant. Jacovich is worried about broadcasting an unconfirmed story because to do so is irresponsible use of media power, not to mention the lawsuits it would attract. Richard sees this as cowardice.

Weaknesses in the film centre on the credibility of the story. When Hector needs rescuing, Richard ousts the medics and takes personal control, even though he is only a cameraman. Kimberly and Richard nurse the stricken Godell while everyone else ignores him - even though he has just made international headlines.

However, the film contains plenty that is excellent. In a morality tale about the artifice of TV, we are shown how even the anchor man's adlibs are read from the autocue. Fittingly, TV literally moves into the plant's control room for the climax of the story. The phrase 'no accident' keeps recurring, with semantic syncopations. The SWAT team is careful to avoid the cameras, a nice touch which suggests that the police's work is somehow dirty. In a memorable shot McCormack, the flint-hearted chairman of the board, looks down on the seemingly tiny Kimberly and Godell, the representatives of the little guy. As the plant emergency grows complicated, the TV director cuts to a commercial for microwave ovens - frivolous radiation jarring ironically with the deadly stuff. Kimberly's slip of the tongue, "selfish sufficiency" for "self-sufficiency" is a clever comment on the attitude of the power company. The tense climax of the 'scram' is made more excruciating by being entirely wordless. In an awful moment, we get to learn what the 'China Syndrome' actually is. This is powerful cinema.

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Good guys in compacts, bad guys in gas guzzlers kag2
Why did the pump shake so much (spoilers) bradhig
with Japan's nuclear disaster now... kimasabe90035-1
Any Other Nukes Seen This Movie? tspencer227
TV, The News and this movie jgallagher33
How Effective Politically? kag2-1
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