China Syndrome (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (1st July 2018).
The Film

Limited Blu-ray Edition (UK Blu-ray premiere)

When a reporter and cameraman are assigned to cover the daily routine of a nuclear power plant, they witness and record an accident which could have wiped out the whole of Southern California, but their bosses refuse to broadcast the footage. Starring Jane Fonda (The Chase, Klute) Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot, Missing) and Michael Douglas (Basic Instinct, The Game), this daring and controversial thriller was nominated for four Academy Awardsģ, and proved to be horrifyingly prescient when the real-life Three Mile Island accident happened at a nuclear generator in Pennsylvania just 12 days after it was released in US cinemas.


The China Syndrome: a hypothetical sequence of events following the meltdown of a nuclear reactor, in which the core melts through its containment structure and deep into the earth. (Wikipedia)

Riveting, historically significant thriller about a very near nuclear meltdown and the frantic attempts by a power station employee (Jack Lemmon) to go public with the help of a reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas).

One of the key films of itís era mainly because the feared near-accident depicted actually happened a few weeks into itís theatrical run. However, the scripting, production, direction and performances are as good as can be. Iím also fascinated by the way sexual politics are to the fore here, with Fondaís TV journalist having to constantly fight to be heard in the male dominated industry she works in and her intelligence and tenacity comes out on top. In my humble view, one of THE great American films of the 1970s.

This is a slick, glossy prestigious film and the cinematography has a softness typical of the period but this is a very film-like image most likely taken from an older master but Powerhouse Films have worked their usual magic on this one; itís very well encodedI noticed no signs of manipulation or DNR.

We have a healthy but not over whelming amount of grain which has been noted above is even and well encoded; no gaps or clumps. Black levels are rich, deep and filled with detail, good examples of which would be in some of the darker bar scenes and fabrics worn by the cast in them. Contrast is fairly low key throughout allowing detail to come through nicely in fore, middle and background with no blown out highlights.

Colours are rich and luxuriant with Bridges and DP James Crabe favouring a warmer palette emphasising browns and yellows; flesh tones are accordingly natural throughout in keeping with the resolutely realistic tone of the drama. Textures are superb in both light and dark with many interesting faces displaying craggy details. Fondaís makeup is cruelly exposed in many closeups due to the increased definition.

I noticed no artefacts to distract and on a my 58Ē LED screen the image maintained a satisfying film-like appearance throughout. This is a topnotch handling of the material handed to Powerhouse Films and theyíve done their usual sterling work. Apparently this is a definite step up on the older Blu-ray from Sony and has been afforded a duel layered BD50 and a high bitrate.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 122:19


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

The original 1.0 audio is loud and robust and very typical of of a mono track from the late 1970s. What music there is in this film - it has no original score, all music heard is diegetic - has real presence when required but never overwhelms dialogue unless by design. Not a great deal more to say here than Iíve said before in my other reviews of Indicator series Blu-ray soundtracks of a similar ilk. Purists will be happy of course as we all should be.

The 5.1 boost is adequate without being astounding in any way. It doesnít sound like theyíve rebuilt it from the original sound stems so itís power is limited to action scenes. Sequences set in the power plant obviously have some welly, especially when the near accidents occur and the LFE track is engaged, but donít expect miracles.

Subtitles are a must and have been included for the hearing impaired .... and old farts like myself who occasionally have a need to check dialogue that they may have misheard.


ďThe John Player Lecture with Jack Lemmon: Conducted by Philip Oakes at the National Film Theatre, London in March 1973Ē (Plays as an audio track over the film) (79:22)

Another in the long valuable line of audio discussions conducted at the National Film Theatre in London. This one heralds from 1973 and covers Jack Lemmonís career up to that point. Lemmon strikes me as a learned but edgy guy.

ďAssessing the Fallout: Tony Shaw on The China SyndromeĒ featurette (HD) (17:35)

A fascinating discussion of the film and itís prescient release in 1979 just weeks before the Three Mile Island incident by a guy who knows his stuff and wrote a 2013 essay on this very subject: ďRotten to the Core: Exposing Americaís Energy-Media Complex in ĎThe China SyndromeĒ (Cinema Journal University of Texas Press, Volume 52, Number 2, Winter 2013p. pp. 93-113).

"The China Syndrome: A Fusion of Talent" featurette (27:36)
"The China Syndrome: Creating a Controversy" featurette (29:34)

Vintage retrospective pieces produced for the DVD special edition of the film from 2004. Covers all the bases in a satisfying way. We get interviews with various surviving members of the cast and crew with the first piece more about the film and itís making, and the second about the controversy. Good stuff.

Deleted scenes (3:56)
- Jack and Ted at Harmonís Place (1:30)
- Jack and Ted at the Plant (:39)
- Kimberly Wells at the Party (1:47)

Amnice little package of deleted scenes that display the actors concerned talents to the full. Not essential but lovely to have. Ported over from prior editions of the film on disc.

Theatrical Trailer (2:02)

Powerful, intriguing trailer that I distinctly remember seeing on HBO, which is where I first saw the film circa 1980.

The China Syndrome Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (23 images)

A nice collection of HD images. I personally wouldíve liked to have seen more, but perhaps there werenít anymore provided by Sony.

40-page liner notes booklet by Neil Sinyard, Gergely Hubai, an interview with Bruce Gilbert, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Anyone who has read any of my previous reviews of Powerhouse Films Indicator releases will know by now that Iím a huge admirer and fan of their glorious booklets. Theyíre the quintessential examples of how to do this kind of thing correctly, giving the punters precisely what they want in terms of content.

This one is no exception and it kicks off with a shockingly good over view of the film and the controversies and climaxes of itís original production and release. This is no surprise as itís written by Neil Sinyard, a respective film journalist whoís name has been cropping up ever since I can remember. This dude knows his onions and if there were film critic-journalist royalty Sinyard would be there with Phillip French, Barry Norman and others whoís sterling work has graced film writing and presenting for the last forty odd years.

I was fascinated to read Gergely Hubaiís piece on Michael Smallís rejected score. Thanks to Hubai Iím going to go and track down a copy of Smallís score which has been released on CD. Apparently producer Michael Douglas and director James Bridges felt it made the film more melodramatic. In any case Small still provided many diegetic cues heard throughout the film.

Other articles cover original reviews, the controversy and a vintage 1979 interview with producer Bruce Gilbert. All great stuff.


A great transfer with top notch picture and sound given the materials Sony provided and the extras package is superlative containing plenty of new contextual and film specific material as well as porting over the previously created Sony extras. As this was one of my favourite films I was like a pig among the truffles.

Should folks buy this disc? Of course they bloody well should; great film, great price, great disc and package; get it bought. One of THE discs of 2018 in this writerís humble opinion. Yet another Powerhouse powerplay to the hard copy industry.

Yaboo sucks to downloads and streaming and this disc and this companyís products (thus far) shows us why.

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+


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