An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Dish (2000)

Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long in The Dish, the Australian film about the

Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long in The Dish, the Australian film about the 1969 moon landings. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

With blockbusters clammering for our attention at every turn it’s easy for some of the smaller, more thoughtful films to slip passed, unnoticed. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Tom Long in The Dish, the Australian film about the 1969 moon landings

Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Tom Long in The Dish, the Australian film about the 1969 moon landings. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The Dish, dir: Rob Sitch, starring: Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Tayler Kane, Eliza Szonert, Cert: 12

There’s an old adage that goes: “Truth is stranger than fiction” and nowhere is this better explored than in the Australian film The Dish.

The world marvelled as Apollo 11 beamed back pictures of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon and uttering those words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” but if it wasn’t for a satellite monitoring station in a sheep paddock in the small provincial town of Parkes, in the Australian outback, then the world would have seen and heard nothing.

Sam Neill introduces Patrick Warburton to the people of Parkes in The Dish, the Australian film abou

Sam Neill introduces Patrick Warburton to the people of Parkes in The Dish, the Australian film about the 1969 moon landings. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

If everything had gone according to plan, the Parkes satellite dish wouldn’t have been needed at all but Armstrong decided to take his historic moon-walk early, the official NASA dishes were on the wrong side of the Earth and the rest is history.


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The fact the setellite station was being buffeted by hurricane force winds as the moon-walk began adds further tension to the drama.

For some, The Dish could be dismissed as a mildly interesting slice of modern history, to be served up as a bit of diverting Sunday night telly, but this would be a huge mistake. History in The Dish just provides the backdrop. It’s a great film because it’s really about people. It’s a quirky, witty, well-written, wonderfully acted character piece which explores how the people of Parkes coped with their brief moment in the spotlight.

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Sam Neill anchors the cast of unknowns as the pipe-smoking chief science officer at The Dish while having to cope with a spiky chief engineer, a tongue-tied nerd in love with the local girl who delivers their sandwiches and the ultra-polite but deadly serious guy from NASA who arrives to make sure everything goes according to plan when it comes time for the transmission.

This is a film that loves its characters. There’s a warmth and affection that fills every frame. This is a film about community. Even the publicity conscious Mayor and the yobbish Australian Prime Minister come across as likeable indivduals who are dazzled by the fact that suddenly they find themselves on the world stage.

The Dish may appear to be a lightweight feelgood movie but that would be underselling it and missing a vital part of its appeal. Writer-director Rob Sitch may love his characters but he doesn’t give them Hollywood rom-com dialogue to utter. Instead, the script crackles with acerbic humour which neatly captures the Australian disregard for authority. That outlaw spirit certainly rises to the surface when the man from NASA arrives to ‘take charge’. You share their sense of outrage, particularly, as everything is going fine and only starts going wrong when they spend more time resenting his presence than doing their jobs.

The film also creates a wonderful sense of time and place. The soundtrack, the clothing, the set-dressing, the vehicles in town are all spot-on but for me its performances from a wonderful ensemble of unknowns that really make this a film to treasure and one I regularly return to when I feel the need for an intelligent feelgood movie.

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