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The Dish

Starring Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton
Screenplay by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch
Directed by Rob Sitch

IN SHORT: Nice small story, better for the small screen. [Rated PG-13 for brief, strong language. 104 minutes]

Sometimes, we hate to write it, "fine" is just fine. As in OK is just OK. Believable acting, a true and interesting story, a colorful character or two. All elements in The Dish, a top box office earner in its native Australia. A thoroughly Australian story, even with its roots in the Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon. The Dish is a film that would be perfectly suited to a bowl of microwave popcorn and a sunday afternoon viewing on Bravo or some such indie preferring cable channel. That's pretty much all we have to say. Fine is fine, and it took four people to make it so.

Back in 1969, long before the days when all the computing power of an Apollo command module could be packed into a chip the size of a fingernail, there were few radiotelescopes with the power to capture and relay a television signal from deep space. It wasn't what they were built for after all, but NASA needed a way to show the world the grand achievement that was about to happen on the moon, and a dish in Australia was one of two that was large enough to do the job. The second, in the good ol' U. S. of A plays a minor part in this particular story.

The Australian dish, sitting in a sheep meadow in a town named Parkes, is large enough that you could play a game of football on its surface. American football. Australians having different rules, the guys who man this dish play cricket. That would be Ross Mitchell (Kevin Harrington) and Glenn Latham (Tom Long), who map the stars and prefer to work with their shirt tails hanging out. Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill) is the buttoned down boss, a pipe smoking widower still mourning his loss. While this little group is pretty much self sufficient, NASA insists on having its own man on scene, Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton)

Warburton should be recognized immediately from his runing role as Puddy on Seinfeld, should light candles to whoever allowed him to step away from that role. His Burnett is a straight-edged, by the book company man whose reticence to allow for any flexibility (either in job performance or performance wear) rubs the local rubes the wrong way. In the middle, trying to keep everyone on the same page is the pipe puffing Buxton. Off to the side, providing comic relief is an overenthusiastic security guard, rudy (Tayler Kane) whose sister Janine (Eliza Szonert) brings the gang sandwiches every day, in a vain attempt to get Glenn to notice that she's alive. Janine, it should be noted, is a knockout. Glenn should be fitted with an extra strong pair of glasses.

As local politicians and international ambassadors converge on Parkes to watch the moon landing in the living room of Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), a power blackout puts the dish offline. Thus begins the real, previously untold story of how Apollo 11 nearly made it to the moon without making it to the moon in any touchy feely way. NASA, believing that poeple needed to see the landing to accept that it happened, had everything riding on these two dishes. If one dish went down, that limited the broadcast window of opportunity to show a moon walk. What would happend, God forfend, if both dishes were off the line? See? We told you that American location would pop back into our story And it'sall very pleasant to watch but that's about all it is.

The Dish is a nice movie fit for the living room couch on a quiet weekend afternoon. It may tell you things about the details of our Apollo proram that you previously didn't know. It has a pair of colorful characters and a stumbling love story whose ultimate resolution is left undocumented at the end of the flick but its place is the small screen, not the big.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Dish, he would have paid...


pay per view level.

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