The China Syndrome is a 1979 political conspiracy thriller starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas and a good-sized nuclear reactor in California that won't behave.A local TV newswoman Kimberly Wells (Fonda) is frustrated that her network won't let her cover serious news (she's stuck with light-hearted non-events). Sent on a tour of a nearby nuclear power plant to promote the positives of nuclear energy, she and her cameraman Richard Adams (Douglas) witness the reactor room just as something goes wrong. Supervisor Jack Godell (Lemmon) finds out the core is close to meltdown and works with his friend Ted (Wilford Brimley) his team to fix the problem (during which Jack feels an unusual tremor that unsettles him for the entire movie). While Jack's team saves the plant, Richard had quietly filmed it all with his camera...Thinking they've got a big story to report, Kim and Richard are instead told by their network bosses to keep quiet and have the film placed in storage while their lawyers figure out their liability. Meanwhile, Jack tries to warn his bosses that there's something fishy with the plant, only to have his bosses insist there's nothing wrong. An investigation into the incident gets rubber-stamped. Meanwhile, the company responsible for the construction of that plant is busy trying to get another one built in a hurry...At every turn separately and then as a team, Jack Kim and Richard try to find out what happened and try to warn others that something's wrong. By the time Richard's friend is killed trying to sneak the film of the accident to a regulatory committee Jack is paranoid and frustrated enough to seize a security guard's gun and take control of the reactor. Kim tries to interview Jack live on television to help him report what went wrong, but the power company kills the signal and sends in a SWAT team to shoot Jack. While he lies dying the company turns the plant on at full power... during which the reactor goes through a terrifying few minutes of OMG it's gonna blow! before falling apart. At the end with the power company trying to paint Jack as a madman, Kim approaches Jack's friend Ted and gets him to say that Jack was sane and that there needs to be a full investigation.China Syndrome came out during the Post-Watergate era, at a time when the public were in a paranoid mood about the people - politicians, the corporations, the media - who seemed to be in charge of things. What made this movie stand out was that on March 28th of 1979 - two weeks after Syndrome was released on the big screen - the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster took place, making what was a standard thriller into a prescient piece of film-making.Note: Nothing actually happens in or to China: the title comes from a half-formed belief that if a nuclear reactor did have a meltdown it would burn all the way through to China on the other side of the Earth. Actually, a meltdown's extreme heat would get absorbed by the surrounding earth, and would get as far the underground water supply where it would make things a hundred times worse. Also, if it DID burn through the Earth to the other side, it'd end up in the Indian Ocean.
This film is associated with the following tropes: