The Chain Reaction [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th January 2019).
The Film

"The Chain Reaction" (1980)

At the W.A.L.D.O (Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation) nuclear waste storage facility, nuclear physicist Heinrich (played by Ross Thompson) is involved in a terrible accident due to an earthquake rupturing a tank and contaminating him. Heinrich is placed in quarantine and his concern is about the risk factor for contamination to the entire surrounding area, but executives are looking to keep things quiet to the public, and that means keeping the accident under wraps and keeping Heinrich silent. He knows the company's plan and makes his escape so he could tell the public, but he is extremely weak with only possibly a few days remaining in his life.

Meanwhile, married couple Larry (played by Steve Bisley and Carmel (played by Arna-Marie Winchester are heading out to their rural cabin for a short holiday. But when a dying Heinrich appears at their doorstep and also with amnesia, their quiet time away fro civilization unexpectedly turns into dangerous matters...

Written and directed by Ian Barry as his feature film debut, the film could be seen as a precursor to "Mad Max", released while the "The Chain Reaction" was in production. Both productions shared many of the same cast and crew, both have exciting car chases sequences, gun violence, and an impending sense of doom. While in "Mad Max" the world has gone downhill where law and order are things of the past, "The Chain Reaction" shows what could happen in the early stages of a nuclear accident. While many films about disasters have huge setpieces of destruction and chaos, "The Chain Reaction" does not go that route, instead relying on characters, cat and mouse chases, much closer to cold war era spy films rather than disaster films. 1979's "The China Syndrome" is a fairly close feature in nature and in tone of environmental disaster and big business coverups, and the coincidental real life 1979 nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island made the subject of "The Chain Reaction" a very timely one.

The absolute standouts of the film are the few action sequences that rival or even surpass "Mad Max" in execution. The fast pace, the editing, the cinematography are top notch, as shot by Russell Boyd. While those scenes are only a few portions of the finished product, the story is quite fascinating to watch throughout. The love story between Larry and Carmel feels genuine, the higher ups at the corporation are menacing, and Heinrich trying to regain his memory before it is too late is a mortal clock counting down to the end. There are some scenes that seem to drag too far like the prison sequences and other points in town, but the finished product is very well done, and that is almost a miracle considering the first time writer/director and the production issues that were faced.

The film was scheduled with a modest budget of $600,000 which was fairly low to begin with. But investors made the decision for the film to be made at $400,000, which would tighten quite a lot of the production. Barry and the production team decided to go for starting the film as scheduled with the $600,000 plan, and would eventually ask the investors for more for completing the film. Barry's credits only included shorts and was not as experienced as the rest of the crew, which led to some days going far behind schedule. The extra money was not coming in and therefore the film was eventually finished with some of the producers such as George Miller stepping in to shoot some of the gaps. Considering how troubled the production was in scheduling and in the shrunken budget, it's almost a miracle that the film was even completed. Hoyts Distribution supervised the post production very carefully rather than relying on Barry, though even with distributor interference, the finished film was ready for screening.

The film was screened at Cannes, where Warner Brothers immediately bought the US rights to the film for $1 million, easily covering the production costs. The film was given a general theatrical release in Australia from September 25th 1980 and abroad throughout 1980 and 1981. The film was not a box office hit, just barely grossing $796,000 theatrically, though it was surprisingly nominated for seven awards at the AFI Awards. Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography were the nominations, though it sadly didn't win any awards. Over the years it was fairly forgotten but with the DVD era and resurgence of "Ozploitation", "The Chain Reaction" eventually found an audience. Umbrella Entertainment in Australia issued a very well put together DVD edition with good extras, and now Umbrella has reissued it on Blu-ray, giving the film a new remastered transfer with some additional extras.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the theatrical cut of the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. This digital transfer is an excellent one, showcasing the grittiness of the production with many of the dark scenes with deep blacks and dark hues while also showing the brighter outdoor scenes with light colors. The restored transfer is free of major damage marks and a healthy amount of film grain is still visible after the clean-up. There are some minor damage marks still visible, and a few moments with a bit of telecine wobble but overall it is another great job from Umbrella.

The theatrical cut runtime is 92:24.

In addition Umbrella has included the early workprint cut of the film entitled "The Man at the Edge of the Freeway" as a bonus. This is in the open matte 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. While it might be encoded in 1080p, this is an upscaled transfer from a standard definition source, without remastering. The early cut is filled with scratches, debris, tape errors, and other damage throughout, with unbalanced colors. Also being open matte, there are shots where microphones overhead are visible among other things not seen in the 1.85:1 framing. It's not the ideal way to see the earlier version, but it is fascinating to watch with the few additional sequences intact, as minor as they are. Note that the additional footage is available separately in the extras.

The early cut runtime is 93:56.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The theatrical cut features a lossless 2.0 mono track. Like the picture, the restored audio track is excellent, with dialogue, music, and effects sounding very well balanced, with voices being clear and the music never overpowering the rest of the track. There are no issues of dropouts or errors in the audio track to speak of.

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
The early cut features a lossy 2.0 mono track. Coming from the early workprint, this is not a fully mixed soundtrack, so there are shots with no audio as foley was not done at the time for the shots and unbalanced effects. The dialogue on the other hand sounds fairly good being clear in most of the scenes.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the theatrical cut, while the early cut features no subtitles. The subtitles are well timed and easy to read with no grammar or spelling mistakes to speak of.

Extras

Extended "Not Quite Hollywood" interviews (64:10)
These extended interviews from Mark Hartley's 2008 documentary "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!" feature Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ian Barry, plus associate producer Ross Matthews. There are a lot of topics covered such as the uranium controversy on mining at the time of production, the period in Australian cinema pre and post "Mad Max", the shrinking budget, a fairly dangerous stunt, the tight pants, and more.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Thrills & Nuclear Spills" documentary (32:56)
In this documentary with Ian Barry, Steve Bisley, and producer David Elfik, discussed are about the genesis of the production, the budget being lowered by a third, the connection to "Mad Max" with the cast and crew, mishaps including a stolen car by a drunken local, production trouble including falling behind schedule, the pride of being the first government funded feature to be sold to Hollywood for distribution, and more. This documentary was previously featured on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Sparks Obituary" (24:50)
Prior to the making of "The Chain Reaction", Barry was looking to make a feature film about a blinded filmmaker creating new work through his mind via neural experiments. In order to create the film, he was urged to make a short promotional version of the film in order to entice investors. Unfortunately the full feature was never made, but the sci-fi faux documentary work can be seen here in its entirety, along with an introduction by Barry. The film is presented in 1.331, with quite a lot of damage and specs from the start, which gets better over some time, but the analog tape master does show many weaknesses in the image and the sound. The introduction is in windowboxed 1.78:1.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 and windowboxed 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Deleted & Extended Scenes (8:35)
A few extra dialogue snippets that are featured in the workprint cut are presented here on their own. Nothing to revolutionary or game changing, with mostly just a few lines of dialogue cut here and there. These come from the same source as the workprint cut, though the image has been cropped to 1.78:1 for some odd reason. These were previously featured on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (2:58)
A series of posters, promotional materials, and behind the scenes stills, with some having captions. This extra was previously featured on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (3:40)
A remastered trailer for the film looking almost as good as the film’s restoration. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

VHS Trailer (2:20)
A very weak looking lo-res transfer from a video cassette source from Australian Video. Pixelation, washed out colors, cropped image - not ideal.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

TV Spot (0:33)
A TV spot that is curiously in widescreen.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


Packaging

The coverart is reversible with slightly different front cover artwork on the inside.

Overall

"The Chain Reaction" is an excellent post-disaster pre-panic film done on a very modest budget, and finally finding an audience years after its initial release. Great action sequences and fine performances throughout, the idea of a nuclear accident coverup is not so far fetched in today's world, considering the film was pre-Chernobyl and pre-Fukushima. Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray features an excellent transfer for the main feature with great bonus materials to supplement the feature, including the early workprint cut. Highly recommended.

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

 


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