Starring: Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton, Roy Billing
Director: Rob Sitch
I seem to have an attraction this week to 1960s US government-based stories being dramatised on celluloid. Following my review elsewhere on the site of “Thirteen Days”, we now take a peak into the unlikely story of a small rural town in Australia which gained noteriety for beaming the pictures of Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.
When NASA come knocking, Mayor Bob McIntyre (Billing) is proud to announce that the world’s most capable satellite dish, located in his Australian district of Parkes, will be relied upon to beam pictures of the future moonwalk around the world. The momentous task of making everything go smoothly falls to the dish site-manager, Cliff Buxton (Neill – “Jurassic Park”, “The Piano”, “In the Mouth of Madness”), crabby technician Mitch (Harrington) and timid mathematical scientist, Glenn (Long). Looking over their shoulder is thorough NASA representative, Al (Warburton – “Scream 3”, TVs “Seinfeld”), and his attention to detail is met with resistance by Mitch.
Simmering in the background, are the personal relationships that only serve as mild distractions from the main story. Nervous Glenn can’t see that pretty local girl Janine (Eliza Szonert – played Danni in Aussie soap “Neighbours”) is waiting to be asked out as they play a familiar game of ‘you make the first move’. Meanwhile, Cliff’s pensive mention of his wife alludes to a deeper story while Mitch and Al pursue a heated battle for control and influence.
When technical problems, both man-made and caused by forces of nature, are poised to destabilise the project, it becomes clear that to the folks in Parkes the actual moonwalk takes a backseat in importance to the town’s ability to show it to the world. This lends an amiable charm to a weighty moment in mankind’s history, showing us that behind the unfathomable science involved in space travel, is something a little more human and down to earth.
We take this moon walk seriously you know!
The danger in regional comedies like this is that some characters will be presented with a far more pronounced stereotype than is required, leading the viewer to feel little sytmpathy and maybe general apathy to certain parts of the plot. That is not the case in “The Dish”, with even the excitable Mayor McIntyre coming across as an honest and hard-working man who is fully deserving of his day in the sun. Neill plays Cliff Buxton wonderfully. Never imagining himself being part of something as large as this, Cliff takes it in his stride until the moment he realises that it might all be going wrong. He then realises that the whole undertaking is actually more important to him than he thought.
Melbourne-born Sitch directs as you might expect – a man comfortable in his surroundings, and familiar with the materials at his disposal. The script is light but entertaining, and although some angles are over-played (check out the dish security guard, Rudi, who acts like he is in the CIA), the strong mixture of humour and character make this a worthwhile watch.