VATER Syndrome Movie Reviews
Godell's crew pulls it together in the end, saving the plant and their corner of North America - but not before Richard and Kimberly catch their abject terror on camera. Unfortunately for everybody (and the continent) nuclear plants are covered by the same national security laws that apply to Area-51 - and the government impounds the tape. While Richard goes "underground" with his tape - stealing it and taking it to anti-nuclear physicists (they're the guys who explain the title) - Kimberly tries to pick up the story by going after Godell himself. Lemmon's Godell is the perfect vet - polite, but not quite ready to help Kimberly bury the plant he loves. Unfortunately for Ventana's builders and owners, Godell loves the plant more than they do. Snooping for info he hopes will clear any doubts about the plant, Godell only finds the shoddy safeguards and oversight that plague it. Tipping off the plant's owners that he's found serious irregularities, Godell is waylaid by sinister guys in dark cars before he can present his proof at a public commission about nuclear power in California. Blocked by "the company", unable to connect with the media and ostracized by his peers (led by Wilford Brimley), Godell takes one final and desperate stab at the plant.
"China" wasn't really topical when it was filming - we know that nuclear power has risks, but so does anything else connected with large-scale power generation. The story actually raises some interesting questions: though nuclear advocates can raise the fact that Ventana's safeguards and the professionalism of those who run it avert disaster as advertised, it's not clear whether we should have to rely on US Navy-trained engineers to a) keep our TV's and blenders running while b) keep California from becoming unlivable for 600,000 years. Instead, not only does the script remind you what side it tilts too, but manages to do so repeatedly without giving you anything to follow their lead. (The covert army that protects Ventana is a tad implausible; also, while Ventana's secrecy is supposed to be maintained by the government, the feds seem nonexistent in this story. The script never explains the government's total apathy about the future of southern California, relying on an almost instinctive distrust of anything big and corporate that was old decades before Enron.) On the other hand, the middle of the flick leans in a direction away from being a simple "cautionary tale", with Kimberly developing some surprising powers to win Godell to her side. The story hints that Godell is a bit of a rouser himself (when they first part ways, he reminds her to think of him next time she blows her hair) before returning us to story about snooping reporters vs. evil corporate minions. Normally, romance spoils serious stories, but "Syndrome" is too serious for its own good. Instead, like Godell, it gets desperate in the end. Suffice it to say that this flick has Jack Lemmon's first on-screen death, and boy do they make up for the delay. Less believable is the relationship between Adams and Kimberly. Sure, you can't choose who you work with, but how did Adams (all long hair and beard) get stuck with Kimberly, who's lucky to report off-course hot-air balloons?
I don't think time has been kind to this flick. Even though recession, Enron and the rise-and-fall of another era of cheap gas make it nuclear power look attractive as it did in the late 1970's, this movie just doesn't radiate.
The film is about the collaboration of a reporter (Jane Fonda) with a director in the nuclear power plant against the running of the plant, after a dangerous event that could have harmed hundreds of thousands of people by radioactive means. Although it seems to start interestingly enough, the tension does not develop at equal rate. One expects a huge or at least somewhat bigger event to happen; but instead gets an unreasonable exaggeration of the initial event, which just does not satisfy the audience.
Michael Douglas plays the cameraman who works with Fonda in shooting reportages. He is the one who gets suspicious of the seemingly perfect control down in the plant, and plays a major role in the investigation of the plant. The movie is not bad; but it doesn't carry forward how it starts. That creates a disappointment. And as I mentioned, one cannot appreciate the social impact truely, if he/she hasn't lived during the years of nuclear danger. Good acting, but a little insatisfactory story for the young ones...
As the plot goes, PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) has been running the Ventana Nuclear Power Plant for a short time, and is looking to add additional plants in their operating area. They are about to break ground on a second nuclear plant and wish to put the public at ease with the idea of nuclear power as a viable source of energy by allowing a T.V. news crew (played by Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and another fellow) to tour the Ventana plant.
While in the visitors booth, in full view of the plant's control room, the news crew witness an emergency that causes the reactor to "scram", subsequently shutting down the plant. Without authorization, Douglas captures the entire event on film. When the drama subsides, PG&E's media suit gives the news crew a watered-down explanation for what just happened.
Fonda, with her first piece of "hard news", hopes to air the story immediately, but is stone-walled by the news station's management. It soon becomes clear that PG&E has gotten word of the film's existence and successfully stops it's airing on television. Shortly thereafter, Douglas steals the film from the station's film vault and secretly shows it to a couple of renouned physicists. What he finds out is very chilling, indeed.
Jack Lemmon plays the Shift Supervisor at Ventana, coming off excellently as a loyal, dedicated company man, who must balance his feelings for his beloved plant, with his growing concern that the plant may not be safe to operate. Digging deeper, he discovers significant evidence that PG&E and its sub-contractors have by-passed safety regulations in the construction of the plant. When he presents this evidence before his superiors, he is amazed to find out that they only care about getting the plant up-and-running again to make money.
The rest of the movie you will have to see for yourself. It exposes the reality of corporate greed and fraud. It gives you a sense of what a whistle-blower in today's world might go through to get their story out. Some companies are killing us and we don't even know it. For example, PG&E (a real company, for those of you who didn't know) recently settled a class-action law suit for contaminating ground water, it's employees and nearby residents with carcinogins. It made many people sick and some died. Many more will die from the long-term effects of expose. You may remember the movie that was inspired by the story: Erin Brokovich.
I was about 12yrs old when The China Syndrome came out. It's just as scary to me now as it was then. I also understand why some of today's youth don't see it that way. Most movies today require extreme graphics and violence to get their message out to an audience. The China Syndrome will seem a little dry to some. If another event, like Three-mile Island or Chernobyl occurs, and it will, then this movie will make more sense to them. It's not the nuclear energy I fear; It's the people who profit from it who scare me.