In 1969, as Apollo 11 rocketed to the moon, one lone satellite dish in Parkes, Australia was chosen by NASA to retrieve the broadcast signal that would send the very first images of men walking on the moon to the waiting world. Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park") stars as the leader of the small group of scientists who control the Parkes dish. A misfit group of brilliant young men, along with a NASA administrator ("Seinfeld's" Patrick Warburton), must battle mistakes, the elements, and each other to make sure the broadcast goes off without a hitch.
Taking a cue from other small village yukfests "Saving Grace" and "Waking Ned Devine," "The Dish" (IMDb listing) suffers from a serious case of the "It's so cute and all so foreign to me" comedies that have plagued the art houses for a couple of years now. While I can surely recognize an originality to the story, and the performances are all safe and sound, "The Dish" is terribly hokey material. I's got a case of the cutes that it's never able to shake. A kind of film made for people who only see one "foreign" film a year and find themselves laughing more at normal Australian behavior than real jokes. However, those "real jokes" do not exist in the bone dry "Dish." A suspect take on true life events, "The Dish" turns a potentially entertaining romp into conventional slush for the masses.
Director Rob Sitch created the monumentally unpleasant Aussie comedy "The Castle" in 1997, and "The Dish" clearly shows Sitch has a craving for lukewarm stories with little drama or laughs to be found. He's not a particularly capable of handling "The Dish's" rather complicated tone, and when all else fails him, he turns to the songs of the era, providing that "Forrest Gump"-like feeling of safety. I think there is a music cue for every new scene in "The Dish." The result is at first appealing, then quickly sours into desperation.
If there is anything director Rob Sitch does well, it's casting. Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton lead the cast of mostly Australian actors. As a group, the cast of "The Dish" works well enough together. With pro Neill leading the way, the players survive their often unbearable dialog and form slightly rounded-out characters. As the lone American in the cast, Warburton at last makes a name for himself with a charming performance as the NASA scientist.
Using the real location of the receiver, the real star of "The Dish" is "The Dish" itself. Weighing 100 tons and located in the middle of a sheep field, "The Dish" is the location for its staff to ruminate about love, dream about the stars, fit in a quick game of cricket, and finally, to be a conduit for one of the world's greatest achievements.
By taking a true life event and turning it into high comedy, "The Dish" fails when the story suddenly becomes a race against the clock as the Australian team battles high winds and failing computers to find the perfect connection for the astronaut telecast. The earlier "Thirteen Days" did a much better job draining tension out of an historical event than "The Dish" could ever dream of. It's tough for any film that roots itself in wackiness, then asks the audience to bite their fingernails over an event that (hopefully) we all know the outcome of, to have any kind of enduring power. Since "The Dish" never really grabs you, the last minute attempts at audience participation seem desperate and feels as artificial as the jokes.
Filmfodder Grade: D+