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The Dish  

Cast: Sam Neill...............Cliff Buxton
Kevin Harrington........Ross "Mitch" Mitchell
Tom Long................Glenn Latham
Patrick Warburton.......Al Burnett
Genevieve Mooy..........May McIntyre
Tayler Kane.............Rudi Kellerman
Bille Brown.............The Prime Minister
Roy Billing.............Mayor Bob McIntyre
Andrew S. Gilbert.......Len Purvis
Lenka Kripac............Marie McIntyre
Matthew Moore...........Keith Morrison
Eliza Szonert...........Janine Kellerman
John McMartin...........U.S. Ambassador
Carl Snell..............Billy McIntyre
Billy Mitchell..........Cameron

Directed by: Rob Sitch Written by: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, and Rob Sitch

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Dish, The
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"The Dish" refers to the gigantic, 1000-ton radio telescope curiously nestled within a remote sheep farm in the small Australian town of Parkes. It was the most powerful receiving dish in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1969, NASA intended to use the Australian receiver as a back-up to its primary dish located in Goldstone, California. However, a last second change in the flight plans for the famed Apollo 11 mission facilitated the use of the back-up dish, making it directly instrumental in conveying to the world Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

The movie is a comedy, but not a cynical one where the motives are simple and the jokes are obvious. Instead, director Rob Sitch ("The Castle") has enormous fun observing the eccentricities of uptight individuals who take their work very seriously while simultaneously housing a glowing admiration toward their efforts.

The team responsible for acquiring the signal is lead by Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill), a recently widowed scientist whose love for discovery gained strength from his wife's concurrent passion. He is joined by his two eager proteges: Ross "Mitch" Mitchell (Kevin Harrington), a brilliant-but-sarcastic technician, and a shy calculations expert named Glenn Latham (Tom Long). To oversee the operation, NASA has dispatched a by-the-book representative and lover of details named Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton). During the mission, the dish is guarded by an ultra-zealous one man security team named Rudi Kellerman (Tayler Kane). He guards the dish with his life, even though the only frequent visitor is his sister Janine (Eliza Szonert), who brings the scientists snacks in the hopes that the introverted calculations expert will ask her out on a date.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Parkes are busy preparing for the biggest event in the town's history. The preparations are being led by the high-spirited and well-meaning Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), his upcoming election on the line. His family entertains Australia's Prime Minister (Bille Brown) and the U.S. Ambassador (John McMartin) who have come to Parkes for public relations purposes.

When technical difficulties threaten the worldwide broadcast of the history-making event, the scientists gather their wits, apply their collective brilliance, and follow through on their endeavor in bringing together the captivated masses - all of whom intently view their television sets as the wonder of possibility takes hold of their minds.

The film contains a plethora of wonderful moments, many that are humorous and many that are touching; but director Sitch wisely doesn't isolate the dynamics by which the differing elements shine. All are bred from a simple observation of human quirkiness as well as camaraderie. The humorous verbal disputations between the sarcastic Mitch and the somewhat fastidious Al Burnett aren't labored, but are instead the result of a simple clash of personalities. I also liked the quirks of the brilliant but incredibly shy Glenn Latham. (After noticing that some of the data has been input incorrectly, he takes it upon himself to alter the information in the computer, yet never brings it to the attention of his superiors. By changing the information, he in essence saved everyone involved from a serious headache; yet when he finally explains his actions, he does so in an endearingly sheepish manner as though he had done something wrong.)

I also admired how Sitch places some of his characters in situations that accentuate the meaning behind what is being discussed. When Buxton tells Burnett about his recently deceased wife and how much she would have loved seeing their endeavor, Sitch places the two men atop the dish as it slowly points itself toward the heavens. It's a beautiful shot that echoes the sentiments being conveyed.

"The Dish" is a wonderful experience. It broke box office records to become the fifth highest grossing film in the history of Australian cinema. The true story it recounts is of normal men who endearingly put their differences aside and their heads together and rose to one of their biggest challenges. Sure, we laugh at their quirks and their occupational fixation. But when the world came together in awe and amazement as Armstrong ignited the passion to dream, how grateful we found ourselves for their scientific obsession.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

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