The Manhattan Project (1986)

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Released 16-Apr-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 107:25
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Marshall Brickman

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring John Lithgow
John Mahoney
Robert Schenkkan
Paul Austin
Adrian Sparks
Curt Dempster
Bran Ferren
Christopher Collet
Jill Eikenberry
Cynthia Nixon
Gregg Edelman
Abraham Unger
Robert Sean Leonard
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Philippe Sarde

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, - most adults in film smoke.
Annoying Product Placement Yes, - Adidas, V05, others.
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I vaguely recall (some 20 years ago - hmm, is it really that long?) seeing a news item about an American teenager being arrested for writing a science fair article on how to make an atomic bomb in your garage. There was some talk about him being charged with espionage, until it was proven that he could have obtained all of the information on how to do it from science magazines, computer bulletin boards and the like. I suspect that the people who made The Manhattan Project had this in mind when putting this film together.

    The film opens with scientist John Mathewson (played very nicely by John Lithgow) displaying a new plutonium enrichment process to some military officers with the comment "Pretty, isn't it?". One of his lab assistants comments that he would get a "Nobel, if he could publish". While the work is being carried out at what is supposed to be a medical research facility it is obvious that this is really a front for the production of enriched plutonium for the military.

    We cut to student Paul Stephens playing a prank on a classmate in science class. His newly separated mother, apparently a real estate agent, meets Mathewson and rents him an apartment, he then asks her out for dinner. In an effort to get to know the family better he asks Paul if he would like a tour of his lab. During the tour Paul spots the plutonium and also notices mutated clover on the grounds. He decides to take some direct action to let the world know what is really going on inside. He steals an ID card from Mathewson and breaks into the lab, steals some plutonium and builds an atom bomb (smart kid).

    The rest of the film deals with the reactions from Mathewson and the military when they find the plutonium missing, and realise just what Paul has done with it. I had not seen this film before, and while it takes a while to get going it eventually becomes quite thrilling, and even has a comic moment or two thrown in for good measure. While the premise might border on the fantastic, it plays upon society's fears of atomic disaster just enough to allow the willing suspension of disbelief. At times it is hard to know if the producers were planning on making a thriller, a comedy, or a character piece; but on the whole this is an entertaining film which should be entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The video transfer on offer here is in reasonable shape, without having the crisp edge you might hope to see on DVD.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is acceptably close to the theatrical release ratio of 1.85:1.

    The picture is a little too soft around the edges for my liking; while the action is clear enough there is almost a haze over some scenes, as if it were all viewed through a soft focus filter. Shadow detail is a little on the dark side (see the trucks at 5:00 for example) but thankfully there is little low level noise.

    Colours are a little muted, and skin tones are a little too pink, though apart from this there are some bright colours, particularly in outdoor scenes.

    There are minor flecks of damage, and the odd vertical line to be seen, but overall the transfer is in reasonable shape.

    There are no subtitles (no, not even English for the Hearing Impaired - poorly done).

    There is no layer change.

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


    The audio transfer is a little thin, even the effects work at the start of the film sounding a little harsh and lacking in character.

    The only audio track on the disc is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s. This appears to be the original theatrical sound (some Internet sources suggest the film had Dolby Surround sound, but the credits do not support this claim). I tried the film in ProLogic mode, which made the audio even worse as it seemed to narrow the sound field.

    The dialogue is clear enough, though at a much lower volume than the audio effects, so you can listen to one or the other in comfort, but not both. Audio sync is acceptable.

    The music by Philippe Sarde is functional but not particularly memorable. As with the audio effects it sounds much louder than the dialogue.

    There is little surround activity to speak of - the music is the only element which adds any width to the sound field. My amplifier added some bass to the sound effects and odd musical moments, but the subwoofer is not otherwise engaged.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras on this disc.


    The menu is static with no audio. From it you can Play the Movie or select a scene. The scene selection is rather poor as you have to scroll left or right from the menu screen to select one; there are 12 scenes to choose from.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this DVD has a theatrical trailer and three subtitle tracks, but apparently suffers from a degradation of the video transfer in the final part of the film, which is not an issue on the Region 4 release. For this reason I am giving the Region 4 version the nod as the version of choice.


    This is a fairly entertaining film brought to DVD with a reasonable video transfer and an acceptable audio transfer. There are no extras but you should be able to find this on sale for less than twenty dollars, which is almost worth the money to see John Lithgow in one of his best (and most winning) performances.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Friday, August 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.

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