Chain Reaction, The (Blu-ray) (1980)

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Released 7-Nov-2018

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Reversible Cover
Featurette-Thrills And Nuclear Spills (32:56)
Short Film-The Sparks Obituary (24:50)
Deleted Scenes-And Extended Scenes (8:35)
Interviews-Cast & Crew-from Not Quite Hollywood (60:10)
Alternative Version-The Man at the Edge of the Freeway: Early Cut (63:56)
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-VHS trailer
TV Spots
Gallery-Image Gallery
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 92:24
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Ian Barry
Palm Beach Pictures
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Steve Bisley
Arna-Maria Winchester
Ross Thompson
Ralph Cotterill
Hugh Keays-Byrne
Lorna Lesley
Richard Moir
Patrick Ward
Laurie Moran
Michael Long
Bill McCluskey
Margo Lloyd
Tim Burns
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Andrew Thomas Wilson

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     An earthquake near the W.A.L.D.O (Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation) nuclear waste storage facility causes a rupture in a storage tank releasing radio-active waste that contaminates the local water table. The rupture also results in nuclear physicist Heinrich (Ross Thompson) being doused in waste; he is badly contaminated and given about 3 days to live. W.A.L.D.O management want no public outcry and are determined to contain any publicity, however Heinrich believes the public should be warned that an environmental and public health disaster is looming. He escapes from the facility and tries to contact a colleague, Eagle (Hugh Keays-Byrne), to alert the authorities but is cut off before he can relay his message. W.A.L.D.O.’s head of security Gray (Ralph Cotterill) and silent killer Oats (Patrick Ward) deploy teams to try to contain the waste, but their main aim is to capture and silence Heinrich before he can expose the spill.

     Motor mechanic and part time racing driver Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester) leave their kids with Carmel’s mother and head out to an isolated cabin in the hills for a dirty weekend. Their fun is interrupted by a very sick Heinrich who stumbles onto their porch. Heinrich is not only very ill but has also lost his memory. Carmel is a nurse and tends to Heinrich and next day Larry drives into town to alert the police. On the way he is intercepted by Gray and Oats and a chase ensues; Larry shakes them off but on arrival in town he is arrested by the local police, Sergeant McSweeney (Laurie Moran) and the dim witted Constable Piggott (Richard Ward), who have already seen their town taken over by W.A.L.D.O. employees. With Larry in gaol, Gray and Oats are free to return to the cabin where Carmel and Heinrich still are. Their intentions are not benign and Larry has to come up with a way to rescue his wife and avert a public health disaster.

     The Chain Reaction is written and directed by Ian Barry. This was his first feature and first screenplay and although he went on to direct many more times over 4 decades, mostly in TV including most recently The Doctor Blake Mysteries, he only wrote one more screenplay, a TV movie Airtight in 1999. He admits in the interview included on this Blu-ray that he struggled on this production but was helped by an experienced crew. The film does look wonderful, courtesy of cinematographer Russell Boyd. Boyd shot many of the classic Australian films of the period including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Gallipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and Crocodile Dundee (1984) and went on to win an Oscar for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003); The Chain Reaction includes some eerie and atmospheric shots of lights, vehicles, and men in white anti-radiation suits in the night, plus beautiful landscapes and abandoned mine workings shot at Glen Davis near Lithgow NSW.

     The Chain Reaction is a film with a message about environmental disaster and evil nuclear big business, where profits are way more important than people’s health or the environment and killing to keep pollution a secret is acceptable; but first and foremost the film is an entertainment with a larrikin sense of humour, gratuitous nudity, male and female, and exciting car chases staged by George Miller fresh off directing Mad Max (1979). Steve Bisley had also been in Mad Max and if he never achieved the superstar status of his contemporary Mel Gibson (who makes a brief cameo in The Chain Reaction) he has worked regularly since and is likeable and cheeky in The Chain Reaction doing the action man stuff well and having a good chemistry with Arna-Maria Winchester in their scenes.

     The Chain Reaction may be clunky in parts but it has a sense of adventure and is a heap of fun. With beautiful visuals, a larrikin sense of humour, nuclear environmental disaster, evil big business, a sinister conspiracy, exciting car chases and gratuitous nudity there is something for everybody to enjoy!

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Transfer Quality


     The Chain Reaction is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     Detail can be softish in some of the night sequences but close-ups and daytime detail is strong. Colours are bright and natural, such as the greens of the bush, while reds and the yellow of Carmel’s jumpsuit are particularly vibrant. Skin tones are natural. Shadow detail is indistinct in places but at other times, such as the vehicle lights in the darkness, blacks and detail is very good. Brightness and contrast is consistent.

     There are occasional specks and at least two larger marks but all are fleeting.

     English subtitles are available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono.

     Dialogue is clear. Effects, such as car engines, crashes, thunder, rain and lightning are loud, sharp and effective. The music by Andrew Thomas Wilson, his first score, used synthesiser and guitar and suited the film.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Alternative Cover

Cast and Crew Interviews (64:10)

     These extended interviews were conducted by Mark Hartley for his documentary Not Quite Hollywood which was released in 2008. The interviews play one after the other, without a menu.

     * Steve Bisley (approx. 10 min) is amusing as he speaks about his character in the film, the themes of the film, the car stunts, the Australian film industry, the nudity and some of his memories of the shoot.

     * Arna-Maria Winchester (approx. 10 min) is candid as she talks about her character, the style, look and message of the film, her career, the location, Steve Bisley and the nudity while she is scathing about the 10BA tax concession, producers and money people!

     * Writer / director Ian Barry (approx. 35 min) speaks about the Australian film industry in the 10BA era, the budget (the financiers wanted an “expensive telemovie”), the themes of the film, the political debate about nuclear energy, “message” vs “entertainment”, the curse of Glen Davis (the location), issues with locals, Steve Bisley and Arna-Maria Winchester, George Miller and shooting the car stunts, nudity, finding a title for the film and the critical reaction.

     * Associate producer Ross Matthews (about 8 min) talks about the budget, scheduling issues, the car stunts, issues with locals and the nuclear message.

     * Cinematographer Russel Boyd (about 2 min) speaks about scheduling issues due to the budget and the locals.

Thrills & Nuclear Spills (32:56)

     A candid “making of” with comments by producer David Elfick, writer / director Ian Barry, Steve Bisley and cinematographer Russell Boyd, film footage and clips from other films including Mad Max. Items covered including the style of the film, the cast and characters, budget cuts just before the shooting started, George Miller and the stunts, accidents on set, night shoots, issues with the locals, falling behind in the schedule, selling the film and reactions to the film.

The Sparks Obituary (24:50)

     With an introduction by Ian Barry, The Sparks Obituary is the short film Barry shot to raise funding for the feature that never happened. A producer hires a famous film director to shoot a film although the director is now blind; the producer, however, has an experimental device that can be drilled into the brain of the director in order to read his mind and display his “vision” on a monitor. Of course, things do not go as planned.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (8:35)

     Fifteen, mostly extended, short scenes, some only a sentence long. Their condition is not very good, showing just how great the film now looks on this Blu-ray.

The Man at the Edge of the Freeway: Early Cut (93:56)

     The Man at the Edge of the Freeway was the shooting title of the film before it became The Chain Reaction. This is an early cut of the film; there are only minor differences, nothing substantial. Most of the deleted scenes above are still in the cut at this stage, there are other small scenes that are not in the finished film while other things in the finished film are absent. There are a lot of big and small artefacts, the detail is poorer and the sound is Dolby Digital 2.0; indeed many of the sound effects are not finished and at other times the sound drops out.

Theatrical Trailer (3:40)

VHS Trailer (2:20)

TV Spot (0:33)

Image Gallery (2:58)

     58 promotional posters and film stills. No music, the images advance automatically.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This release from Umbrella is the only Blu-ray version of The Chain Reaction currently available.


     Filmmaking can be a very serious business these days with massive amounts of money at stake and blockbusters tweaked, manipulated and sandpapered within an inch of their lives! The Chain Reaction comes from an earlier era of filmmaking in Australia where there was a sense of adventure, freedom to experiment and, oops, fun! The Chain Reaction may be clunky in parts but it tries things, is unpretentious and ends up being hugely entertaining.

     The Chain Reaction was released on DVD a decade ago and reviewed on this site here. This Blu-ray release includes most of the extras that were available on the DVD and adds the interviews and the early cut of the film. With the HD presentation and lossless audio, an upgrade is warranted for fans of the film. If you don’t have the film, and enjoy Australian genre moviemaking, check it out.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, January 02, 2019
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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