A political hair-raiser of its time (1979), THE CHINA SYNDROME is a fictional story about a female news reporter (Fonda) and her cameraman (Douglas) who happen to be filming a report at a nuclear power plant when an "accident" occurs. With the importance of nuclear power growing at the time, the plant tries to downplay the incident, while its shift supervisor (Lemmon) questions its safety. Together, the trio attempt to get to the bottom of this possible disaster.
Watching THE CHINA SYNDROME in 2004 isn't likely to lead to many revelations, political firestorms or major surprises, but the film does still competently pull together a string of solid performances by all concerned (especially Fonda and Lemmon-- who were both nominated for an Oscar for their roles here), a well-established storyline that builds as the film moves along, as well as a powerful political message that you can transplant into any other volatile political corporation today, and still appreciate as a warning about the power that money can exert over the responsibility to your fellow man. Even though this film lasted two hours, it kept me going most of the way through with a charismatic performance by Fonda, as the underappreciated newscaster in the day and age when women were still thought of as "fluff pieces" of the nightly news segments (reminded me of ANCHORMAN...but for real!).
Douglas also played her feisty cameraman very well, despite acting with his beard, while Lemmon's performance finally gave me a true appreciation of why so many people love him (I haven't seen many of his films, but he was a perfect powder keg here). The film won't blow you away with any major "thrills", in fact, there are almost no visceral thrills to be found in the movie (except for an ending that "shakes" things up a little), but if political intrigue, corporate baddies and nuclear dickheads interest you, you're likely to enjoy this film, despite it feeling a tad dated while rewatching it today, particularly because of the many similar movies that have been produced since. PS: You may also want to rent it solely for the purpose of seeing a young Wilfred Grimly (if there is such a thing) before his hair went ghost-grey. He still sported that creepy fu-manchu mustache though.
Deleted scenes: These are 3 deleted scenes, one of which is pretty funny since it features the typical "70s humor" with a drunk newscaster making a "play" for Fonda's character at a pool party, by asking her if she wants to "be a car" and then proceeding to "honk, honk" her hooters. Classic stuff. Sometimes I wish picking up the ladies was that easy in our time. Oh, he subsequently gets pushed into the pool, so I guess that wasn't a great pick-up line, after all.
Featurette: Fusion of Talent (27 minutes): This half-hour piece features interviews with Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda today, discussing the film, and even more specifically, the talent that was associated to its creation. Douglas, who also moonlit as the producer on this film, speaks about the film's background and collaboration, as it was melded from two screenplays into one, and how a producer character to be played by Richard Dreyfuss, was altered into a news reporter played by Jane Fonda (who freely admits that she chose the role because she was very anti-nuclear in real life at the time). Sadly, both the film's director, James Bridges, and actor Jack Lemmon, have passed, but everyone else discusses both of them in detail as well, including Bridges' good friend, who provides us with genuine insight into the man.
Featurette: Creating a Controversy (29 minutes): This featurette is essentially just a continuation of the previous one, with everyone who spoke in the former featurette, speaking in this one as well, this time about the actual production, the production design, the score (which was eventually chucked) and specifically, the relationship between the film's release and its effect on America. It's to note that only 3 weeks after the film's release, an actual nuclear disaster occurred on "Three Mile Island", similar to the situation in the film, which made audiences even more aware of the danger of such a thing. Douglas has since turned into a U.N. Ambassador on this very issue. He's also married a much younger, hotter woman, but that's another story altogether.
This is not a movie that's going to blow anyone's nuts into left field nowadays, but if looking back at a 70s "thriller" is something that appeals to you, especially if you're into any of its three main actors and appreciate solid performances, rent this Asian Syndrome and enjoy its well-rounded extras as well.