The Dish

The Dish


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Small films with big hearts used to be Scotland's prerogative (Whisky Galore, Local Hero, Orphans). Now the Aussies are muscling in, although Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding and Mr Reliable proved they knew how to do it all along.

The Dish displays the best qualities of the little film. It is character-driven, unprepossessing and naturally funny. Exaggeration has no part in this, a laughing-with rather than laughing-at experience.

In 1969, the largest radio telescope south of Java sits in "a sheep paddock" outside Parkes, New South Wales. This is a rural neighbourhood, with its petty bourgeois snobberies and mind-warped lack of sophistication, where innocence is prized, stupidity protected and the cock-up theory well-lubricated.

Before the launch of Apollo 11, which will take Neil Armstrong to the moon, the boffins at Parkes are approached by the Americans to keep an eye on the space craft during shut-off hours. Al (Patrick Warburton), a deadpan NASA representative, is sent along for techie support.

The team consists of Cliff (Sam Neill), a pipe-smoking cove, very much in the English tradition of stiff upper lips, Mitch (Kevin Harrington) who wears shorts while indulging in cricket practice on the face of the dish and the boy Glenn (Tom Long) who is so shy he can't ask the beautiful Janine (Eliza Szonert) for a date. And then there's Rudi (Taylor Kane), who wanders purposefully from room to room, immensely proud of his revolver and uniform, carrying a walkie-talkie, calling himself Head of Security, which is redundant in a place like this where everyone knows everyone and a whisper is as good as a shout.

The local politicians and their wives bask in the glory of Parkes's fame. The American ambassador and Australian prime minister pay them a visit. It's heady stuff for a town that no-one has heard of. Meanwhile, out in the field, where the dish is tracking Apollo's historic flight, there are problems. They've lost contact. As panic grips, the gallant trio struggle to maintain a semblance of control before NASA, or anyone else, discovers the blunder.

As in the best small-town movies, personal details and simple touches make the difference between feel-good and looks-funny. Rudi's inability to follow the rules and have people sign the book when they visit is a case in point. He knows them all, especially Janine who drops by every day with a basket of home-baked goodies for the boys. Why bother?

The contrast between this string-and-elastic approach and NASA's high gloss efficiency is beautifully played.

Also, the emotional intensity of the moon landing, with its fuzzy TV pictures, is a reminder of an astonishing event, which, at any moment, could have ended in disaster.

Based on a true story, the film is rich in comic incident. Its gentle demeanour may be deceptive, as actors take pains not to steal scenes from each other. Seldom has a co-operative venture felt so rewarding. Decency paves the way, full of home sweet values which too often are overlooked in the big picture.

Reviewed on: 05 Jan 2002
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Character-driven comedy drama about how an isolated Australian radio telescope was crucial to the first Apollo moon landing.
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Director: Rob Sitch

Writer: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch

Starring: Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Patrick Warburton, Tom Long, Taylor Kane, Roy Billing, Eliza Szonert, Bille Brown

Year: 2000

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


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