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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
The Dish (2000) is the real thing. It's the real story of how a lowly radio telescope in Parkes, in the southern state of New South Wales in Australia, was upgraded in 1969 to transmit live pictures of the Apollo 11 moon landing for NASA. At the precise time the landing was scheduled to take place, the direct line of sight was going to be with the Southern Hemisphere, not the North, halfway around the planet from Cape Kennedy. The country town of Parkes, not far from Sydney, still has the largest radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, 210 feet in diameter, but it's located in the middle of a sheep paddock to this very day. At the time, it was the most powerful receiving dish in the world.
Working Dog Productions (comprised of Australian national icon raconteurs Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch), despite their background in comedy, have captured the times with authentic 1960s music, opening with Russell Morris's The Real Thing, followed by Herb Alpert's Spanish Flea. The irreverent skewering of Australian smalltown pretentions could not have been successful without the playful soundtrack providing that sense of hope and excitement. Authentic NASA and JFK archival footage also allows The Dish (2000) to join some larger budget Apollo program movies on its own terms.
The funniest scene is with the teenage band in the small town, who are experimenting with Jimmy Hendrix but have to answer to Mrs Pearce (Denise Roberts), who won't let them play too loud, and insists that the band learns to play the American anthem in 48 hrs, because the US Ambassador is going to attend the town for the lunar landing. What the band comes up with is totally priceless, and I'm with them. So is the Ambassador ! I only wish we could have heard more of it ...
The five quirky Parkes dish operators are brought to life by the very funny Kevin Harrington as Ross 'Mitch' Mitchell, who maneuvers the dish, Tom Long as painfully shy Glenn Latham, the computer scientist, Patrick Warburton as prim but charismatic NASA representative Al Barnett, Sam Neill as Cliff Buxton, Parkes director and "dishmaster", and finally, Tayler Kane as the lanky security guard Rudi who is so overly impressed by his increased security status. In the second most funniest scene a local yokel newspaper journo tries to interview them, and he observes that "the Americans spent 10 years, billions of dollars to let us watch man walk on the moon, and in the end it falls to you blokes. How do you feel about that?" Mitch (Kevin Harrington), ever chafing, retorts, "-A lot better before you opened your trap".
Everyone gets into the spirit of allowing Parkes to shine during its moment of glory, and the audience is dragged right along. When something goes wrong, Al, the prim and proper NASA rep, is also dragged in. "... What have I done?" he muses as he buys the facility some time. "-You bulls****ed NASA", comes the Aussie reply. The whole cast is a joy to watch, although the women tend to be just caricatures. Sam Neill has never been more tender as the recently widowed radio astronomer missing more than grieving his wife, who would have loved all this. "Nothing is as frightening as regret", he quotes her in a quiet moment. Patrick Warburton, the same actor who voices Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove (2001), also has some soft-spoken tender moments as he begins to confide in his host and as he charms the rabidly antagonistic Marie (Lenka Kripac) with a single handshake. Comedian Kevin Harrington (Mitch) steals every scene, of course, and Carl Snell echoes our own humility as the space fan and Mayor's tiny son, Billy, who is probably the person really behind Parkes' nomination into the Apollo program.
The most wonderful, quintessentially 1960s moment is when the chafing Aussie finally admits, to the man he'd been chafing against, that it was his own fault that the generator failed. The NASA rep, despite their long-standing feud, just says "Well, these things happen. Better get to work". The moment makes you deeply regret that all it took for man to go to the moon was that kind of spirit and commitment. For the people involved, it wasn't about the cold war, it wasn't about which damn fool government got to plant its flag on another space body. It was the cooperation of people who had to relearn how to even speak to one another. It is the eternal shame of the human race that we could foresee a routinely functioning space station in orbit by 2001 but we couldn't pull it off for real, because of politics. At some point you realize that the funding concerns were always a red herring, because even the poorest families have to figure out how to both educate their kids and feed them. This was "science's chance to be daring", a planetary opportunity the human race willingly lost 6 missions later. I wonder how those who killed the Apollo program feel now.
It is to the creators', Working Dog Productions' credit that we get such a lump in our throat over the fact that this real CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) facility is still a part of NASA missions to this day. It is a matter of public record that despite gusts of wind greater than what the Parkes telescope was rated for, the Aussies (pronounced "Auzziez" for everyone who continually GETS IT WRONG) provided the live TV coverage of The Eagle landing. How many of us wish we could leave footprints in that powder ! Many thanks to Parkes Radio Telescope staff for having made this movie possible. We really did go in peace for all mankind, if only for a few priceless moments.
Come and see the real thing. 11 out of 10.
I was fourteen when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969, but I
think most of us baby boomers paid little or no attention: the war in
Vietnam was escalating, and the country was torn between those for and
against it; both MLK and RFK had been assassinated the year before; Rachel
Carson's Silent Spring had given birth to a new environmental consciousness;
and, whether deserving or not, Woodstock was still tingling everyone's
senses as the most significant event of the year. With all the talk about
thrust and size and payload and uptime and deep penetration of space, Apollo
11, at the time, seemed nothing more than macho posturing against the
And that's one of many reasons why The Dish is such a wonderful little film. It reclaims NASA's space program for those of us who were too distracted to pay attention. And it does so, not by placing it within the social and political convulsions of the time, which would be to assign it marginal importance, but by unfolding the drama of the Apollo mission from the setting of an idyllic little sheep paddock in provincial Australia, where the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope was charged with the task of receiving and broadcasting the event walk to the entire world. This film is incredibly charming and innocent, with a keen sense of humor about otherwise obscure people suddenly thrust into the spotlight of world attention.
There's a particular scene that is emblematic The Dish's simplicity, charm, and wit. Colorfully lit beneath a black Australian night, the enormous dish looks like a new form of life, its frame and skin and delicate but precise movements floating as gently as a butterfly, its circular, concave shape suggesting living organs of sight and sound. As the eyes and ears of the world, it actually had a brief but mystical life of its own. It's a singular skill to take such simple images, and make them sharply evocative. You'll love this movie.
I got this out on video largely due to some favourable reviews and the
that I'm a big fan of Sam Neill. It didn't disappoint. It's one of those
warm, fuzzy movies that gently pulls at your heartstrings, rather than
drowning you with sentimental treacle.
Although the humour is a strong feature, the film's greatest achievement is conveying the sense of excitment felt as a result of the Moon walk. It kinda made me wish that I was around then to share in that excitment.
Hopefully the success of this film will allow writer/director Rob Sitch the chance to create future well-crafted films.
Note: Those of you who've watched "Neighbours" will spot the girl who used to play Dani Stark looking very fit.
I went into the local art-house theater expecting to see Ammores Perros
(forgive me for not spelling that right) but missed the showing by an hour.
Luckily, I stumbled upon this wonderful film. While similar in tone to
films such as The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Saving Grace, The Dish is
of the most unique and interesting films I've seen in years. Funny, cute
(not cutesie though), and genuinely warm, the film got to me without me
feeling cheated or manipulated. It did take a while to get into though - I
simply didn't laugh for about half an hour.. But my american cynicism
melted away and the film makers unique sense of humor won me over.. This
film will put a smile on your face and you may even shed a tear- it's a
shame so many of us american guys would rather call the movie cliched and
manipulative than really admit that it moved them (I had to personally
back some tears since my gf was right next to me)...
This movie has NO violence, no sex, no cliched villains and entertained the hell out of me.. While this is a very PG movie in my opinion, I wouldn't call this a family film.. The comedy is subtle and younger kids simply won't get it.
Sometimes I feel sorry for the people who didn't get to experience the
excitement of the early days of the manned space program. The miracle
of space exploration is all so routine to them, it's hard to explain
what the "big deal" was all about.
This movie perfectly captures the excitement of the first manned moon landing, and does it from a point-of-view that most people never think about. It's funny: we see the images on our TV, and most of the time we never even think about how they got there. It's just TV, right? It comes out of a box (or, nowadays, a flat screen), right? It just comes through wires or through the air.
This movie is about one of the massive antenna assemblies that received the images from the Apollo XI mooncast, and about the people who made it work. And while that sounds more like something that you'd expect to see on a "how it's made" show on the Science Channel than in a movie, it's actually a wonderfully entertaining and funny movie about people who are engaging and funny, and who are doing a critical and fascinating job that made it possible for millions of people worldwide to watch, live, one of humanity's great milestone events.
And another nice thing about it: this is a FAMILY movie. There is no nudity, no violence, and although the movie has a PG-13 rating, I can't remember any language in it that was overtly offensive.
Sam Neill stars in this movie as Cliff Buxton, the guy who is in charge of the huge antenna dish that gives the movie its title. Neill is excellent in this. He does a superb job in bringing out the nuances of the character and in working with the other people in this movie. My only problem with him is that in the sequence that frames the movie, when he has to appear aged, a truly AWFUL job of makeup was done. It looked like something that might be done in an elementary school play by kids who borrowed their mom's makeup kit. Please, please try to ignore this cringe-inducing look, because it's very brief and Neill looks fine the rest of the movie.
The rest of the cast is also very good, although I don't think any of them are well-known or very familiar. They do well with the material, and there's a real sense of a group of people who like each other and care about each other, while at the same time occasionally getting on each other's nerves. They're mostly engineering/scientist types, which basically means they're aware that they're better with machines and numbers than they are with people. There's a little sub-plot involving romance that's very funny and sweet.
The tension in the movie comes from the fact that the giant antenna assembly that receives the lunar transmissions had to be pointed very precisely in order to get the reception, and that certain kinds of weather conditions made moving the giant antenna very dangerous. While most of the world was sitting in front of their TV sets, expectantly waiting for the "mooncast" to begin, there were a whole bunch of people in Australia, where the antenna was located, frantically working and making some very tough decisions to make it possible.
I have to say that the sequence when everyone is finally watching Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon really swept me back to when I was 12 years old and sitting spellbound on the couch in our living room, watching that shadowy shape on the TV screen make that "giant leap for mankind." I'd like to hope that maybe, through watching this movie, younger people who missed out on that magical moment will at least understand how transforming it was for the entire world. We don't have many moments like that in history. I'm glad I was there for this one. And this movie captures that moment, when just for a few heartbeats while we watched the blurry black-and-white image of a man in a spacesuit slowly coming down a ladder, literally everyone in the world was riveted and united by a sense of perfect awe.
And I'm glad this movie captures some of the magic of that particular event, and gives us some insight into what it took to bring it to the world on TV. That it almost didn't make it live onto TV was something I didn't fully appreciate until I saw "The Dish."
This is a great movie to enjoy with your family. I don't like to say "family movie," because that conjures up something silly and trivial and kid-centric, which this movie is not. I really enjoyed it and I think anyone who is into the space program or who can identify with engineers and scientists will like it too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have to admit it, I can't judge a movie like this objectively. I was
12 when Apollo 11 landed, and 40 years later it's still one of the most
inspiring events of my life. Apollo helped interest me in a career in
electrical engineering, computers and communications. I've designed
receivers for data that has crossed a hundred million miles of empty
space. Even though I know how it works, there's still an element of
magic and wonder in it for me.
So a movie like this couldn't be more up my alley. It's a wonderful depiction of a few of the many thousands of unsung but crucial Apollo support people -- and the attention to detail is amazing. They even got the Apollo down link frequency (2282.5 MHz) and signal levels right, and when Sam Neill calls "offset feed!" at the beginning of the moonwalk I almost fell out of my seat.
Some inaccuracies are of course unavoidable, but only one actually bothers me: the detour into an alternate reality for the sake of some admittedly very funny comedy when a power failure scrambles the tracking computer. I laughed as hard as anyone during the American ambassador's site visit. But not only didn't this happen, it wouldn't have. People make mistakes and equipment fails. That's expected in any space mission. But lying about it as these guys did would be highly unprofessional. It's something you just don't do.
Those who know this subject better than anyone have written about the other nits in this movie, and you can read about them here:
But aside from all that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terms such as "charming," "sweet-natured," "gentle" and "good-spirited"
may mean the kiss of death for some movies. It's also possible that the
movie in question just might be worth watching because it is well-made,
deals with a genuinely inspiring topic and features some classy actors.
For me, The Dish falls in that category. The dish is a 1,000-ton radio
telescope plunked down in a sheep pasture close to the New South Wales
town of Parkes. It's purpose, as part of a NASA network, is to help
track Apollo 11's voyage to the moon and to relay television pictures
of Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to set foot there. Sam Neill
as Cliff Buxton heads the team running the radio telescope. There's
also Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton) as a NASA representative, Glenn
Latham (Tom Lang) as a young and excruciatingly shy mathematician and
computer whiz, and Mitch Mitchell (Kevin Harrington), who's job it is
to see that all the mechanical functions work without a hitch.
We know Armstrong made it and we know television showed us his first steps. For those of us who were around, we also remember how amazing it all was. What we learn in this gentle comedy are the crises that happened. One morning, for instance, Cliff says, "Glenn, come here." "What?" Al Burnett looks at Glenn. "Every coordinate in this book has been changed," he says. "Yeah... I changed them," Glenn says. "Why?" "Because they were wrong." "Why were they wrong," Al asks. "Dunno," Glenn says. Latham steps in. "What about them were wrong," he asks Glenn. "Oh! Well," Glenn says, "the figures NASA gave us were for the northern hemisphere... and we're in the southern hemisphere? I can change them back but then you'd be pointing in the wrong dir..." "Glenn, it might be a good idea for you to tell us these things," Cliff says. "Oh, sure, I just didn't want to worry you... Cuppa tea, Al?"
There's the pride and enthusiasm that overtakes everyone living in Parkes, the visit from the U.S. ambassador and the Australian prime Minister that sends everyone into a tizzy, the near disaster that occurs when contact is lost with Apollo 11 and how an amusing appearance of imperturbability is maintained in public when everything from failed back-up generators, wiped-out computers and a gale promises one of the biggest let-downs -- no television broadcast -- for the entire world. For me, one of the reasons this movie works so well is because Parkes is an idealized small town where everyone knows each other, there are absolutely no secrets, and where the people have personalities which are calculated to be amusing but which aren't manipulated into becoming caricatures. Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), the mayor of Parkes, is a fireplug of a guy who resembles Bob Hoskins. The technical aspects of what's happening may go over his head, but he's willing to give the benefit of the doubt to almost anyone. His relationship with his wife, May (Genevieve Mooy), is friendly, loving and pleasant to observe. We learn a little, and occasionally a lot, about the people of Parkes and we wind up liking them. This is comedy, but it's gentle stuff. When we smile at a person's puzzlement, dialogue or reaction it's because we appreciate the situation, not that we're enjoying our own superiority.
Sam Neill, smoking a pipe and wearing a sweater, provides the steady center of the movie. He does a fine job. The Dish is more or less based on a true story and we're told at the end that the radio telescope is still part of the NASA tracking network.
This movie certainly gives an accurate impression of Australia in the
late 1960's, especially the lack of sophistication and difficulty
dealing with authority. It was a time of change though, and this
provides an interesting backdrop to the events of July 1969.
Edmund Choi's excellent soundtrack is paired with an apt selection of popular music, which will be remembered well by those who were around to see the live coverage of Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the moon. The archival footage of NASA etc are well utilised to support the action. eg the juxtaposition of Nixon talking to Armstrong while US Army guys watch the TV, possibly in Vietnam(?) There is a great depth to this little tale, and more to notice each time you slip the DVD into the machine.
Sam Neill and Tom Long are wonderfully cast, and the Working Dog team display their usual panache in mixing the serious and the absurd to form a film which is uniquely Australian.
This movie is from the creators of 'The Castle' (see
'The Dish' is about Australia's CSIRO Parkes Observatory, the largest radio-telescope in the southern hemisphere, and its role in the 1969 NASA moon mission...
But I really just wanted to say that 'The Dish' has a great soundtrack. Apart from the contribution of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra there are many pop/rock songs from the sixties that really help this movie along.
The standout song would have to be 'The Real Thing', written by John Young, sung by Russell Morris, and produced by Molly Meldrum. (I've heard that, at the time of original release, this song went to #1 in New York as well as in Australia.)
Other songs include: Good Morning Starshine (Hair), Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf), Fly Me High (Justin Hayward), Something in the Air (Thunderclap Newman), Let's Get Together (The Youngbloods), Hawaii Five-O, A Taste of Honey, and You've Made me so Very Happy.
The haunting 'Wings of an Eagle' by Russell Morris closes the movie.
The test of any good comedy - or any good movie really - is how well it
stands up to repeated viewing. If you were on a long, overseas flight
and you saw it as an option among the movies you could watch, would you
bother plugging in its number? Or would it find a place among your DVD
collection? The Dish is a great little Australian comedy gem that
garners a yes to all those questions. Written by the crack writing team
behind The Castle and TV's Frontline, it focuses on the previously
unheralded role the small Australian town of Parkes had in the 1969
moon landings. Parkes is home to The Dish - the largest radio telescope
in the southern hemisphere. When Neil Armstrong and the boys were ready
to walk on the moon for the first time, Parkes was an essential cog in
getting those pictures back to Earth.
That's the facts on which this comedy is based, and around those facts a lovely plot is woven that includes some memorably characters and performances. Sam Neill is great, as always, and Kevin Harrington is also perfectly cast. My favourite, though, is Roy Billing as the Mayor of Parkes. The man's timing is a lesson to all comedy actors. A good script, a great cast and a wonderful movie.
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