The Dish

In the small town of Parkes, New South Wales, right in the middle of a sheep paddock, is a satellite dish. It’s an odd sight. Rising high above the tree line, the dish looks out of place. It isn’t.

dishFor the dish is only one of two capable of picking up the signal of man’s first walk on the moon. Its location makes the dish the perfect back-up for NASA, who wants to use it when Neil Armstrong takes those first historic steps. An honor for any town, an absolute pleasure for the people of Parkes, who suddenly become the center of world attention.

Welcome to “The Dish,” a big grin of a comedy from the filmmakers who brought us “The Castle.” Loosely based on real events, “The Dish” is a funny, sentimental and ultimately charming movie. Director and co-writer Rob Sitch shows a lot of affection for the characters, all of whom seem real and full of life. They may be a little eccentric, but that’s what makes them so interesting.

Like the family in “The Castle,” the characters in “The Dish” are truly unique and live in a world all their own. They march to the beat of a different drummer, and the rhythm of their life vibrates through each and every scene. What makes spending time with these characters such a pleasure is that we see a little of ourselves in them. We understand where they are coming from.

Which is important, especially when dealing with real life events. We already know the outcome, so it’s vital to the filmmakers that we connect with the characters so we can relive the events through their eyes. Damned if it doesn’t work. Even though we know the broadcast of the first moonwalk goes off as planned, we watch in suspense as one catastrophe after another plagues the satellite dish.

We feel for the men who operate the dish, reluctant heroes who weather one storm after another with cool heads and determination, and just enough human comedy to keep everything light. In charge is Cliff Buxton (warmly played by Sam Neill), up to the challenge even though he’s still mourning the death of his beloved wife. He’s assisted by shy mathematician Glenn (a sweet Tom Long), discontent electrician Mitch (a winning Kevin Harrington) and a transplanted NASA executive Al Burnett (a priceless Patrick Warburton).

It’s the perfect mix of personalities, a quartet of professionals who play off of each other with precision. The town is represented by proud Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), feeling vindicated over his insistence to build the dish, and his lovely wife May (Genevieve Mooy), who relishes at the opportunity to play hostess to visiting diplomats. Sitch and co-writers Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, and Jane Kennedy have lined the streets of Parkes with enjoyable supporting characters, including a dense security guard named Rudi (Tayler Kane), and his sweet and pretty sister Janine (Eliza Szonert), who has a crush on Glenn.

You appreciate that fact that the filmmakers don’t make fun of these people, but find humor in the things that they say and do. It’s the kind of humor that comes from the heart or the situation. Like when the men in the dish lose the Apollo spaceship after a blackout resets their computers. Instead of telling NASA the truth, they lie, hoping to fix the problem before anyone finds out. After spending hours going through the motions, one of the characters mentions the obvious.

The revelation is so startling simple you can’t help but laugh. I also liked the way the characters relate to each other. You really feel a sense of community, especially when the town gathers for two important events: the Blast Off Ball, where a local band greets the American Ambassador with his national anthem (the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”), and the evening of the broadcast.

It’s so satisfying to see all of these diverse people come together and become one unit, all rooting for the same thing. The filmmakers are so good that they even get us to rally along with them. When high winds threaten the dish and the signal, I was right there with Buxton and his men, fingers crossed and praying that they fulfill their mission.

The cast couldn’t be better, especially Neill. He opens and closes the film, and in-between he commands the screen. It’s a natural, thoughtful performance that embodies the true spirit of a pioneer. Warburton, hidden behind thick, horn-rimmed glasses and a stuffed shirt, radiates as the outside voice of reason. He’s so funny it hurts.

“The Dish” isn’t a big movie, but it is filled with big ideas and a big heart. It generates the kind of goodwill that makes you want to see more films from the filmmakers. As a director, Sitch makes choices that benefit everyone. His choice of music is extremely nostalgic, while he wisely keeps the camera up close and personal. Maybe it’s a budget necessity, but I like the fact that he’s more interested in the characters and what they have to say as opposed to where they are.

It’s rare for a film to entertain and educate. “The Dish” accomplishes both. You leave the theater feeling as though you have rediscovered a little piece of your past. You have a better understanding of the little things that make a big thing like the broadcast so important. Even if they’re just fabrications, being able to put faces on these people helps you appreciate their effort.


The folks down under serve up a nostalgic Dish


Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton, Genevieve Mooy. Directed by Rob Sitch. Rated PG-13. 101 Minutes.


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