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With: Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Roz Hammond, Genevieve Mooy, Tayler Kane, Bille Brown, Roy Billing, Eliza Szonert, John McMartin
Written by: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch
Directed by: Rob Sitch
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 101
Date: 09/15/2000

The Dish (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

This 'Dish' Served Lukewarm

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As far as I know I saw Neil Armstrong's July 1969 moon landing, but I was only 9 months old at the time, so I really don't remember. But from similar moments in recent movies like Apollo 13 (1995), October Sky (1999), A Walk on the Moon (1999), and Space Cowboys (2000), I can tell that it must have been a striking time.

Now comes The Dish, which is one of those "based on a true story" movies that adds a whole bunch of boy-meets-girl twaddle and so-called stirring music to an event that might have been pretty fascinating on its own.

The Dish tells the not-very-well-known story of the satellite hookup in the small town of Parkes, Australia that tracked the Apollo 11 when it was on the opposite side of the Earth from California. The dish was literally built in a sheep pasture and run by a few local scientists (played by Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, and Tom Long) and an American NASA scientist (Patrick Warburton).

The movie tracks two real events, a power outage during which the satellite goes dead and loses track of Apollo 11 for several hours, and a windstorm that kicks up�threatening the dish itself�just as Armstrong begins his moon walk. Director Rob Sitch (The Castle) has the sense to space these events out, breaking them up into neat second and third act centerpieces.

These scenes and many others along the same lines provide plenty of tingles, and Warburton (The Woman Chaser) in particular demonstrates his powerful screen persona that deserves leading-man status. But for long stretches in-between, we're subjected to flabby characterizations, slapstick comedy, and an overbearing musical score telling us how we should be feeling about everything. On top of this, The Dish opens and closes with a modern day scene of an aged Sam Neill visiting the dish and getting all misty about it, an indication that Sitch couldn't figure out what else to do.

The clearest example of the strengths and weaknesses of The Dish comes during the two major Apollo 11 scenes, the launch and the moonwalk. Sitch handles the launch scene with great balance, showing the old black and white television footage of the launch, intercut with just a few stunned faces, and no music. It's astonishing. When it comes time for the moon walk, Sitch plays the Armstrong tape all the way through, including the great "One small step" line, but drowns it, smearing it in some stomach-turning syrupy musical score, and showing far too many stunned faces this time, when we'd rather be watching Armstrong.

Overall, The Dish tries for that sweet, lighthearted flavor that made Waking Ned Devine (1998) so winning. But it stumbles far too often to get very excited about it.

Best Buy Co, Inc.