The Manhattan Project (1986)

PG-13 | 118 mins | Comedy-drama | 13 June 1986

Full page view
HISTORY

As reported in a 23 Jun 1986 DV article, writer-producer-director Marshall Brickman claimed he selected the story because he believed it would be a great subject for a film, not because of the politics surrounding nuclear weapons. A 5 Oct 1985 Screen International article stated that Brickman originally wrote the picture for Alan Ladd, Jr.’s company. When the company disbanded, Brickman attempted to make a deal with Universal Pictures but negotiations fell through when he refused to make changes in the script. At newly formed Gladden Entertainment Corporation, producer David Begelman read Brickman’s screenplay and was eager to make the film.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, filmmakers in cooperation with the New York Academy of Science’s Junior Academy organized a science fair for high school students from the New York City area. Of all the projects submitted, eighty students and their exhibits were invited to return during the filming of the science fair sequence.
       A 10 Oct 1984 DV article announced that principal photography on the $10-million picture would begin on 1 Feb 1985 in New York City, but a 30 Jul 1985 HR production chart listed the film’s start date as 10 Jul 1985. Production notes state that principal photography was completed on 4 Oct 1985.
       According to an Apr 1986 Theatre Crafts article, special visual effects and technological design supervisor Bran Ferren and his team used photographs of nuclear facilities in America and Europe as references to conceptualize the laboratory sets in the film. Ferren visited several nuclear plants such as Oakridge, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore to purchase “old atomic ... More Less

As reported in a 23 Jun 1986 DV article, writer-producer-director Marshall Brickman claimed he selected the story because he believed it would be a great subject for a film, not because of the politics surrounding nuclear weapons. A 5 Oct 1985 Screen International article stated that Brickman originally wrote the picture for Alan Ladd, Jr.’s company. When the company disbanded, Brickman attempted to make a deal with Universal Pictures but negotiations fell through when he refused to make changes in the script. At newly formed Gladden Entertainment Corporation, producer David Begelman read Brickman’s screenplay and was eager to make the film.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, filmmakers in cooperation with the New York Academy of Science’s Junior Academy organized a science fair for high school students from the New York City area. Of all the projects submitted, eighty students and their exhibits were invited to return during the filming of the science fair sequence.
       A 10 Oct 1984 DV article announced that principal photography on the $10-million picture would begin on 1 Feb 1985 in New York City, but a 30 Jul 1985 HR production chart listed the film’s start date as 10 Jul 1985. Production notes state that principal photography was completed on 4 Oct 1985.
       According to an Apr 1986 Theatre Crafts article, special visual effects and technological design supervisor Bran Ferren and his team used photographs of nuclear facilities in America and Europe as references to conceptualize the laboratory sets in the film. Ferren visited several nuclear plants such as Oakridge, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore to purchase “old atomic research parts.” Electronic and research components were also purchased at surplus sales hosted by the federal Defense Logistics Agency or plants looking to auction off surplus equipment. Ferren built the University and Medatomics laboratory sets in three months. The work was done at Ferren’s Long Island studio and transported in fourteen trucks to the Empire Sound Stages in Long Island City, where they were reassembled.
       Filmmakers spent the first few weeks filming in Suffern, NY, which doubled as the town of Ithaca, NY. Suffern High School doubled as Ithaca High in soccer game sequences. Other locations used to represent Ithaca included Bergen County, NJ, and Rockland County, NY. A small library in Haverstraw, NY, with windows facing the Hudson River, was dressed to represent “Elizabeth Stephens’s” real estate office. To portray Lake Cayuga, a portion of the Hudson River at its widest, near the Tappan Zee, was used. The company spent two weeks shooting night exteriors at the International Nickel Company’s research and development facility located at Sterling Forest Industrial Park in Rockland County.
       The bomb used in the movie was designed with a transparent cover to make it more visually interesting for audiences. The science fair was shot at the Penta Hotel in New York City.
       A 9 Jan 1985 Var news item reported that Gladden Entertainment Corp. filed a petition on 3 Jan 1985 in Los Angeles [CA] Superior Court to obtain legal permission to fire Brickman after he allegedly refused to make script changes that would keep the budget from exceeding $10.5 million, per their agreement. The complaint described how Brickman refused to change some scenes from night to day, to insert a bus instead of a train for an escape scene, and have one character travel by car instead of helicopter. Brickman was fired prior to the petition, on 12 Dec 1984, but the petition was filed to insure that the firing was appropriate, and Gladden was not required to compensate Brickman under the terms of a “pay-or-play” contract. Although additional details of the legal proceedings could not be determined as of the writing of this Note, Brickman was reinstated as co-writer, producer and director as seen in onscreen credits.
       An 11 Jun 1986 Var brief reported that a screening was held on 3 Jun 1986 at the Gotham Theatre in New York City, ten days before the film’s theatrical release on 13 Jun 1986.
       The following acknowledgments appear in end credits: “The Producers wish to thank: New York Penta Hotel; Ford Motor Company; VT Technologies; Barnes Engineering Company; Barron’s Educational Series; Roger Gibbs Battie, Security Consultant; Birds-Eye Security International, Inc.; Shortline Bus Company; Star Magic; David Stein’s Bubble-Thing; Jim Hensen [sic]; Cyalume® Lightsticks manufactured by American Cyanamid Corporation; remote control truck supplied by Model Rectifier Company of New Jersey; Laser Optics by Newport Research Group; Argon-Ion Laser by Spectra Physics, Inc.; conveyor system by Translogic Corporation; HT³ Robot by Cincinnati Millicron; the New York City Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre & Broadcasting; the New York State Film Commission; the people of Suffern, New York and the faculty and students of Suffern High School; the future scientists from the tri-state area who participated in the science fair and contributed their own individually created projects.”
       End credits state: “Filmed on location in and around New York City, at the INCO, Ltd., Research and Development Center, Sterling Forest, New York, and at the Empire Stages of New York, Long Island City, New York.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1984
p.1, 23.
Daily Variety
23 Jun 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 May 1986
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jun 1986
p. 1, 6.
New York Times
13 Jun 1986
p. 8.
Screen International
5 Oct 1985.
---
Theatre Crafts
Apr 1986
p. 74-76.
Variety
9 Jan 1985.
---
Variety
14 May 1986
p. 16.
Variety
11 Jun 1986.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
University Lab:
Harlan Cary Poe
Nuclear emergency search team:
Medatomics Lab:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Gladden Entertainment presents
a film by Marshall Brickman
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr
Asst unit mgr
Addl 2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
D.G.A. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op & 2d unit dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Key grip
Dolly grip
Video tech
Video tech
Video tech
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Prop master
Props
Props
Master scenic artist
Const foreman
Head const grip
COSTUMES
Asst cost des
Cost supv
Cost supv
MUSIC
Orchestrations by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Looping ed
Asst looping ed
Re-rec mixer, Sound One
A.D.R. eng
Dolby stereo consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff and technological des supv
Spec eff
Spec visual eff crew
Project coord
Gen mgr
Chief eng
Mechanical eng
Asst to Mr. Ferren
Purchasing agent
Research
Acquisitions
Opt cam
Opt lineup
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Electronics & robotics
Laser systems
Laser systems
Laser systems
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
Lab const
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Asst to Mr. Brickman
Asst prod office coord
Loc coord
Loc coord
Loc coord
Casting assoc
Extras casting
Asst extras casting
Unit pub
Loc auditor
Asst loc auditor
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Studio mgr
Studio & loc equip supplied by
Camera supplied by
STAND INS
SWAT stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
Col timer
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 June 1986
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 June 1986
Production Date:
10 July--4 October 1985
Copyright Claimant:
Gladden Entertainment Corporation
Copyright Date:
25 June 1986
Copyright Number:
PA297741
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Camera & Lenses supplied by Joe Dunton Cameras
Prints
Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
118
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28060
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Military officials are so impressed with nuclear physicist John Mathewson’s research on plutonium, conducted at the Federated Universities High Energy Physics Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the scientist is given funds to set up an official laboratory. In Ithaca, New York, moving trucks deliver John’s equipment to Medatomics Nuclear Medicine Research Facility. In science class, teenager Paul Stephens plays a practical joke on a rival student named Roland by mixing up a combustible solution of hydrogen tri-iodide. Paul paints the compound on Roland’s drawer, and waits until his rival sets off an explosion. Later, Paul helps fellow student Jenny Anderman retrieve her car keys from her locked glove compartment, and she invites him to a study session at her home. Soon, John Mathewson signs a lease on an apartment, on the recommendation of realtor Elizabeth Stephens. When Elizabeth introduces John to her son, Paul, he notices from his schoolbooks that the youth is interested in lasers. John invites Paul to see the lasers in his laboratory. There, John impresses Paul by using a laser beam to cut through a steel plate. As they walk around, Paul notices a green substance, plutonium, and learns it is a liquid form of the compound that is being used. Elizabeth joins them for lunch, and sends her son to John’s car for her jacket. Paul uses his nail file to open the glove compartment, and finds several of John’s government-issued clearance cards. Back in the restaurant, Paul excuses himself to go on a date, and John gives him a brainteaser puzzle invented by a colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nothing that anyone who can solve the puzzle in less ... +


Military officials are so impressed with nuclear physicist John Mathewson’s research on plutonium, conducted at the Federated Universities High Energy Physics Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the scientist is given funds to set up an official laboratory. In Ithaca, New York, moving trucks deliver John’s equipment to Medatomics Nuclear Medicine Research Facility. In science class, teenager Paul Stephens plays a practical joke on a rival student named Roland by mixing up a combustible solution of hydrogen tri-iodide. Paul paints the compound on Roland’s drawer, and waits until his rival sets off an explosion. Later, Paul helps fellow student Jenny Anderman retrieve her car keys from her locked glove compartment, and she invites him to a study session at her home. Soon, John Mathewson signs a lease on an apartment, on the recommendation of realtor Elizabeth Stephens. When Elizabeth introduces John to her son, Paul, he notices from his schoolbooks that the youth is interested in lasers. John invites Paul to see the lasers in his laboratory. There, John impresses Paul by using a laser beam to cut through a steel plate. As they walk around, Paul notices a green substance, plutonium, and learns it is a liquid form of the compound that is being used. Elizabeth joins them for lunch, and sends her son to John’s car for her jacket. Paul uses his nail file to open the glove compartment, and finds several of John’s government-issued clearance cards. Back in the restaurant, Paul excuses himself to go on a date, and John gives him a brainteaser puzzle invented by a colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nothing that anyone who can solve the puzzle in less than two minutes is exceptional. Paul spins the Plexiglas box with its four blue spheres so that each sphere ends up in its respective quadrant. John is impressed, and remarks that he will need to entertain Paul with something harder. Later, Paul tells Jenny Anderman that he saw plutonium at the lab, which is only used for two things: reactors and weapons. He is curious why John and his staff pretend they are doing medical research. He also mentions that John is attracted to his mother, and has security clearances for places like Oakridge, where they manufacture nuclear warheads. In addition, he found a five-leaf clover on the laboratory grounds surrounding the laboratory, a mutation that never happens in nature without exposure to chemicals or radiation. When Jenny thinks it might be luck on his part, he shows her a handful of five-leaf clovers picked from the same area. Jenny is upset when she realizes that a nuclear bomb is being built in her backyard. The community deserves to have hearings to decide if the laboratory has a right to exist. Paul is not interested in activism as much as he wants to gain access to plutonium. He determines that a lightning storm will make it possible to break in to the lab. At Paul’s house, John’s car is parked out front. Paul opens the glove compartment, and steals a security clearance card. He hides in Jenny’s trunk, and they drive to Medatomics, where Jenny lies to the security guard that she got lost on the way to visit her sister and her car is malfunctioning. When the guard gives her permission to drive onto the grounds, Paul jumps out of the trunk and runs toward the laboratory. As the guard helps Jenny with a flat tire, Paul uses John’s card to sneak in, and scrambles the bank of security cameras at the front desk. In the hallway, Paul throws Frisbees to set off the building’s motion detectors. The guard calls road service for Jenny, and calls for security backup when he notices his cameras are out of service. Meanwhile, Paul steals a container of plutonium and replaces it with a decoy filled with green Prell shampoo. Paul attaches the plutonium to a remote controlled toy truck, and rigs laboratory lasers to cut a hole in the wall, pushing the truck outside. Paul positions scientific equipment in front of the hole to hide it. At the front desk, he unscrambles the security cameras and motions to Jenny that he needs five more minutes. To buy more time, she hides the tire lug nuts from the emergency road service worker. Paul uses a remote control to guide the toy truck carrying plutonium past the security guard. As Jenny drives away, Paul meets up with her, and climbs back in the trunk with the plutonium strapped to the toy. At a safe distance, Paul emerges and Jenny announces she plans to write a magazine article about their adventure. As Paul returns John’s clearance card to his glove compartment, he tells her to write her story about his plan to make the first privately built nuclear bomb. In the following days, Paul researches the best way to build his bomb. The janitor at school gives him a storeroom to use for his experiments. While on the soccer field, the shape of the ball inspires his bomb design. He tests his weapon in the woods. At Medatomics, staff members discover the readings on Paul’s decoy sample are off and run additional tests. After John is informed that the rogue sample is Prell shampoo, the radiation controls officer tells him that security records show him in the building on a Sunday night. John claims the report is a mistake, and there must be a glitch in the system. John wants him to keep the missing plutonium a secret, but Miles is obligated to report the theft. Meanwhile, Jenny documents Paul’s progress with her camera, and they leave for New York City to enter his bomb in a science fair. John and Medatomics staff search Paul’s workshop at school, and read his notes. After realizing the extent of Paul’s science fair project, John, along with a contingent of military men, ambush Paul and Jenny in their hotel room. They want to confiscate Paul’s invention but he has hidden it elsewhere. John gets permission to speak privately to Paul, who is willing to surrender his creation after the judging. However, John insists the plutonium project is top secret and word must not get out. When they open the trunk of Paul’s car to retrieve his invention, it is missing, and Lieutenant Colonel Conroy takes the boy into custody. As his associates give Paul sodium pentothal, “truth serum,” a group of sympathetic fellow science fair contestants stage a rescue operation. They cut the power, set off smoke bombs, give Paul and Jenny cash, and return Paul’s wooden box containing his bomb. He and Jenny escape through the hotel back door into a taxicab, then onto a bus bound for Ithaca. Lt. Col. Conroy, John, and others from the nuclear emergency search team arrive at Elizabeth Stephens’s home, and announce they are authorized to temporarily take over. On the bus, Paul sees his photograph, with the caption “Teenage Terrorist,” flash on another passenger’s computer screen. He and Jenny arrive in Ithaca and hide in a barn. Jenny wants him to surrender his invention, but he insists that she write her article first. Soon, Paul steals a truck, makes a collect call to his mother from a payphone, and confesses to building a bomb. John gets on the telephone. Paul insists he will surrender the bomb in exchange for John’s typed-up a statement explaining where the lab is, and what it does. He demands they meet at Medatomics in an hour. As Jenny drops off Paul, he walks to the main gate, where John is waiting. Paul accepts John’s statement, but instead of handing over the bomb, he wants to go to the lab. Elsewhere, Jenny calls her friend, Max, from a pay phone with instructions to start a protest by contacting the television station with information about Medatomics. Meanwhile, John gets into a scuffle with an FBI agent when they are ordered to step away from Paul’s box. The boy slips into John’s laboratory, but hides as SWAT team agents surround him. Slowly, Paul assembles the components of his bomb, and arms the timer. Snipers report that they cannot get a straight shot of Paul without hitting stored canisters of plutonium. The colonel orders John to separate Paul from his weapon. As they talk, Paul tells John that as long as the bomb is in his possession, he stays alive. However, he does not expect to remain alive. Demanding that Paul surrender his bomb, John carries the weapon to the center of the lab, and tells the colonel that he and Paul are leaving. If they shoot him, he will still have time to activate the bomb. As they make their way out from the building, the timer spontaneously turns on. They return to the lab to dismantle the core, but it becomes stuck. As Paul takes apart the batteries, John calculates they have three minutes to solve their crisis, and realizes their present course of action will detonate the bomb. Instead, John proposes they cut the connections between the “photo strobes” and the high explosives. There are six wires that need to be cut simultaneously, and six wire cutters are distributed. John does the countdown. The volunteers cut at the right time, and the timer stops. Agents move to take apart the bomb components. Outside, Jenny and a coalition of friends appear. John and Paul open the electronic gates to let them into the Medatonics grounds. Jenny hugs Paul in relief, and Elizabeth and Paul reunite. John promises to tell Elizabeth the details later. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.