What a little moonlight can do
Director Rob Sitch’s The Dish is a feel-good period piece about Apollo 11 that revels in the details
The Dish gives us an Australian slant on the Apollo 11 moon shot in the summer of 1969. It is also a droll period piece and comedy of manners playing the tightly wound Yanks of NASA off against the laconic Aussies in the small town of Parke.
The title refers to a monster satellite dish, the largest radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. It is chosen to serve as one of the major links in the broadcast of television images from the actual moon landing, an event that sets the small town in southeastern Australia on its ear.
Director Rob Sitch treats the various human relationships in terms of wry comedy, but the moon shot itself is the object of steadily growing wonder and respect. The central dramas revolve around the scientist in charge of the Parke dish (Sam Neill) and his relationships with the NASA representative and the three younger Australians who work at the site.
Sitch and company manage a nice blend of historic events and assorted personal dramas. Neill’s understated performance, in the role with the most at stake personally and professionally, seems to set the tone for the film as a whole. Indeed, modesty and unpretentiousness are issues with several of the characters in Parke, and the offhanded humor of the Aussie characters plays a key role in the film’s emerging perspective on the moon landing.
In its own laconic way, The Dish is a feel-good movie distinguished by more intelligence than we usually associate with such things. It has a couple of love stories tucked into the margins of its narrative, and two episodes of real-life suspense bring its strains of comedy and drama into complementary focus. But its small details—an Aussie security guard feeling embarrassed about having to carry a gun, for example—may be its greatest and most moving strength.