THE DISH (2000) 

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Sam Neill
Kevin Harrington
Tom Long
Patrick Warburton
Genevieve Mooy
Taylor Kane
Bille Brown
Roy Billing
Lenka Kripac
Eliza Szonert

Rob Sitch



Time: 104 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy/History

I don't see a lot of small movies because it usually takes too much effort to get to a local theater that's actually playing your selection. I made an exception in the case of THE DISH for three reasons: I generally love Australian movies, I heard this one was particularly good and I no longer have a daytime job, so I had the time and it's better than watching soap operas. Plus, it stars Sam Neill, who has a pretty good track record in my opinion and it's about the moon landing. I know, how many stories can there be and how can this subject still be interesting over 30 years later? I can't answer those questions. I believe it still grips the hearts and minds of mankind mainly because we've never been back. All that effort and money and for what. One visit? It certainly doesn't make any sense. I keep thinking that I'll be bored with the footage, but that never happens. In the case of this film, all hopes are pinned on a rather large satellite dish in a very small town in the middle of nowhere Australia. Based on a true story, the world would have been without images of the space walk if it weren't for the people of Parkes and their dish.

The time is late July 1969 and the world is poised breathless with anticipation of the first lunar landing. The town of Parkes is especially excited because they will be active participants in this groundbreaking event. They are the proud owners of the largest dish in the Southern Hemisphere and they will be transmitting the radio and television signals sent from the astronauts to NASA while the capsule is on their side of the Earth. The other major dish is in California. Initially, everyone thought the Mayor (Billing) was crazy for commissioning Parkes to be the site of the dish, but now they couldn't be prouder. Especially, Cliff Buxton (Neill) the director of the project. This is their moment to be part of something monumental and he's going to make sure nothing goes wrong. To aid him are his trusty engineers Mitch (Harrington), who manuveurs the dish, and Glenn (Long), who works the computers and comes up with the calculations. At their side, is Al Burnett (Warburton), NASA's man on the scene. In the days that precede the launch, everything goes smoothly. All systems are go and the town is in the throes of launch fever with the American ambassador and Prime Minister coming to visit. They couldn't be happier.

"My wife said something. She said, 'Failure is never quite so frightening as regret'."

That is until the town blows a circuit and the dish goes dead. There is a back-up system in place, but due to a slight human error it doesn't work. Power is restored, but all their data is gone. They've not only lost Apollo 11, they lie to NASA about it. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and they're not about to give up without trying to reconnect with the capsule. They have 12 hours before it's their turn again. So, it's up to Cliff, Glenn, Mitch and Al to pull an all-nighter and figure out where Apollo 11 will be when it reaches their side of the world in order to re-enter the numbers and lock on to their signal. They manage to get back online, but not without some slight comic interludes. Even Al, who's loyal to NASA, goes along with the lies, if only to make sure all their hard work pays off. It wouldn't be much of a movie, if that was the only thing to go wrong before that fateful moment. Let's suffice it to say that the men gather their courage and take a chance with their lives to make sure this once in a lifetime moment is broadcast to the world. Because theirs trials are due to ordinary circumstances, their success is even more sweet. The magic of the moment, the pure joy on their faces, transforms the grainy images into the miracle that it was.

There is nothing overly complicated about THE DISH. It's a simple story told in the most straight-foward manner possible with a dash of humor and pathos thrown in. It's a wonderful, if not overly taxing, tale about humanity and what we're capable of. There are no real standout performances from the cast. This is a team effort and they each perform the job they were hired for, much like the people they are portraying. The comedy is more subtle than I expected, but funny just the same. Except for the problems with the dish, not much else happens so the story seems a bit bland at points, like they were trying to pad the film. The time spent with the Mayor and other townspeople is fun, but doesn't really add much but local flavor to the story. The camera crew did a great job filming the dish. I was truly captivated by the power and beauty of this technical marvel. Being 1969, the music was also great, evocative of the time and the upsurge of rock-n-roll. It must have cost most of the budget to get the rights to so many great tunes. THE DISH won't rock your world with it's story, but it will bring you back to a time when the world seemed to pull together in a single endeavor. Better than most studio fare, this is a film to see if you like small movies about big deeds. In the end, I was glad I made the trip.

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