It is funny and full of the quirky Australian humor that is a national trademark.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Anyone who saw Bob Sitch's terrific Australian comedy, The Castle, will spend the first part of The Dish anticipating the same zany humor he brought to the earlier film. But director Sitch and his colleagues have something else in mind here. They have made a reflective appreciation of the Apollo 11 Mission that put a man on the moon.

This is a quiet, sweet, movie propelled by gentle humor-a meandering tribute, like a held salute, to NASA, its astronauts, and the people around the globe who supported their endeavor. You may remember that Australia tracked Apollo 11 whenever it passed through the Southern Hemisphere and then passed the pictures to a waiting world.

Imagine then, with a smile at the thought, that Parkes Laboratory was manned by five scientists who make one big human miscalculation and then suffer a calamity of nature: a monster storm that could abort their coverage of the moon landing. It's a lovely idea that brings an Australian perspective to the American mission, allowing us to look at it through the focus of another culture. History has recorded seamless teamwork between the Australians and the Americans. Only we, the audience, are privy to the comic imaginings of Mr. Sitch.

The actual dish is magnificent to behold. It is a massive, glorious, sculpture, a bright white, slightly cupped football field in the air that moves ponderously in response to the keystrokes of the crew that works the controls from a small, inner pod that holds them neatly. Relegated in its beginnings to a remote farm field, the dish that was a joke has become the pride of Australia. With the moonshot, the men who work in The Dish must get used to their new fame, and to the political visitors who come by to cash in on it.

The Dish is manipulated by a crew of four under the leadership of Cliff Buxton (Sam Neil). Cliff has recently lost the wife he loved, and he goes about his work with a touching mix of personal sadness and the awe born of his understanding of NASA's achievement. Sam Neil gives a contained and immensely dignified performance that speaks deeply of his conflicting emotions. Neil and his fellow actors play lightly with each other's foibles while at the same time making a moving tribute to the American mission. It's nice that it comes from them instead of from Hollywood, which undoubtedly would have made a sentimental mess of it. Instead, it is funny and full of the quirky Australian humor that is a national trademark.

The Dish is a movie about pride-the national pride of Australia in its key role, the national pride of America in putting man on the moon, and the universal pride of earth in opening the route to planetary exploration. If the movie slows too much for a while, we'd best slow ourselves along with it, the better to appreciate what the Australians are saying.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 490
Studio : Working Dog Productions/Warner Bros.
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 1h44m

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