Published Mar 01, 2001In the middle of a sheep paddock, in the middle of Australia, there is a dish. A satellite dish. And not just any satellite dish, but the largest one in the Southern hemisphere. Its staff consists of only three people (plus an inept security guard); the mayor stops by to say hi; a local girl brings lunches to be close to a young man she likes; and the techies drink tea and play cricket inside its giant bowl during their spare time. And in 1969, it played a most important role in the history of 20th century culture.
Based on a true story, Australian film "The Dish" tells the tale of how this particular sheep paddocked satellite dish became the primary source in broadcasting the 1969 moon walk to the world. It's a funny, charming tale of one small link in the effort for science to explore the frontiers of human limitation to do something extraordinary simply to find out if we can, indeed, do it.
In terms of the British Empire, Australia is one of "the territories," but in Hollywood's eyes, Britain, Australia, even Canada to a certain extent, have become "the territories," and from these English speaking lands have lately come quirky films that Americans don't quite understand, to the point of, at times, subtitling them. But "The Dish" is by no means an Aussie "Full Monty," nor any form of "Ned Devine." Sure, its filmmakers were responsible for a quirky comic David-Goliath fable populated with eccentrics in "The Castle," and "The Dish" does not lack for odd behaviour, but it's of the human, not the distinctly "territorial" variety.
What "The Dish" does provide is a particularly Australian perspective on an event that shaped the world. Led by Sam Neill, the crew of the dish itself yearns for the respect of NASA, even while they quibble over the presence of one of its advisors looking over their shoulder (himself practically shaking from the epic responsibility being handed him). The townspeople all get into the act as well, greeting dignitaries and throwing fancy parties like it was their coming out at the world's biggest debutante ball.
And in the end, the weight of the event itself is given its appropriate due, recapturing a sense of wonder at science and technology and human will accomplishing something that is truly remarkable. The film lets you in on the event in a particularly poignant and wonderful way, even if the average Cineplex goer wasn't born when it all happened.