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Starring: Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton
Director: Rob Sitch
Rated: M

THEY will have to build a new visitors centre at the radio telescope at Parkes to cope with the tourists that will now make a pilgrimage to it.

The Dish tells the story of the pivotal role this installation played in the lunar mission to the moon in July 1969. The telescope at Parkes is the largest in the southern hemisphere, so when Neil Armstrong went out early to take “a giant leap for mankind” at 12.57pm EST, Parkes was the only telescope able to pick up the pictures and beam them to the world. Just!

What sounds like an interesting documentary is, from the makers of The Castle, a warm, humorous and affectionate tale. Beaming with pride and anxious about failure, Parkes has to deal with NASA officials, entertain the Prime Minister, the US ambassador, deal with a power failure (untrue), losing Apollo 11 (true), a wind storm and the fact that Parkes does not glimpse the moon until 12.56pm. Disaster is ominous, but, as we probably never knew, the Parkes boys did us all proud!

A lot has changed for Rob Sitch from his days spent making The Castle. In The Dish he has a decent budget, a bigger cast, better technicians, more locations and shooting days. From his time with the Kerrigans, however, he has brought with him writers and producers Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Jane Kennedy. The same keen observation of Australian middle-class values and perspectives, self-deprecating humour and social commentary are in The Dish as well.

Graeme Wood’s pictures and lighting are wonderful. Jill Bilcock’s editing keeps the dramatic momentum going, particular in the cross cutting from the film to archival footage. The film is well paced and the music creates atmosphere. Carrie Kennedy’s production design is meticulous, re-creating scene after scene with the look of 1969.

This film is an ensemble piece and the Aussie Parkes team of Cliff (Sam Neill), Mitch (Kevin Harrington) and Glenn (Tom Long) bounce off each other and NASA’s Al (Patrick Warburton) with skill and timing. As good as Harrington and Long are, however, it seemed like they had just walked in from the set of Seachange. Having these two particular actors side by side in this film, in similar roles to Seachange, is a casting mistake. Roy Billing was born to play the Mayor of Parkes. He is brilliant. There are two technical gripes. Sam Neill’s aged wig and make-up in the opening and closing scenes is so poor it is distracting. The sound design is too loud, so rather than engage the senses, the audience draws back from the screen – for all the wrong reasons.

That said, it would not be a Working Dog production without a social bite. The Dish recalls the unity, peace and tranquillity we thought might come from space exploration. Recent events show how misplaced that hope was and demonstrates the downside of the frontier that lunar missions opened up.

The Dish has won awards at international film festivals as an audience favourite. Pack up the family and have a taste of this very enjoyable film and you will see why.

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