The Dish (2000)

What a heartfelt and funny film. The story of a remote satellite dish (radio telescope) in Australia that plays an important role in relaying transmissions of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

An uneasy alliance between the Australian and NASA scientist.

I have to say, this is one of my favorite films. It is charming, has great characters and incredible warmth. You want a film to cheer you up or just to make you smile? This is it. You are transported back to 1969, when life was often a bit simpler, and the music filled with pop delights.

Based on a real story, but certainly fictionalized characters and comedic events added, the film provides a believable narrative and enough offbeat characters to made you wonder, did this really happen.

Parkes is supposed to play a minor role in the moon landing, but its position and ability to step into the breech when needed, elevates the role to a critical one in receiving and relaying moon landing images across the globe.  When the main satellite is unable to receive Apollo 11’s transmission, Parkes is up to bat.

Parkes is so inconsequential, it is located in a sheep farm, has no security fence and is a local curiosity.  Only when it’s Apollo mission is revealed does it get a security officer, who unfortunately, takes his job way too seriously.

Mayor and Mrs. McIntyre welcome Cliff Buxton and NASA’s Al Burnett.

NASA sends a scientist (Patrick Warburton) to work with the Parkes crew, headed by Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill).  There is unfortunately some animosity between them, but they find a way to pull together.  The Parkes Observatory is a big deal for Parkes, and Mayor McIntyre, who’s wife see this as a way of moving up the political and social ladder.

The town is abuzz with the moon mission and the publicity from Parkes’ role in the event.  The Prime Minister and American Ambassador makes a visit to the Parkes Observatory, and is welcomed by the town with a reception.  The local school band, which tries to sneak a Jimi Hendrix song passed their teacher, is asked to play the American national anthem, but instead, they believe it is the theme to Hawaii Five-O.

The American Ambassador listens in on “communication” from outer space.

A power failure, as a result of poor maintenance, threatens Parkes’ role in the moon landing.  Instead of being able to lock onto the signal technologically, they have to scan the sky the old fashioned way to find the Apollo 11 signal.  This effort brings the American scientist and the Parkes crew together.  Unfortunately, the American Ambassador picks this moment to visit Parkes, to eavesdrop on communications between NASA and Apollo 11, which at the moment, is not possible.  Not wanting to have their calamity discovered, they fake a transmission between NASA and Apollo 11, enough to satisfy the Ambassador.

On the day of the landing, a decision has to be made whether to operate the disk in very high winds, the kind that can damage the structure. The other dish has relay problems, so Parkes must endure the high wind and take the point.  It’s Buxon’s decision, much is at risk, but he steps outside his comfort zone and risks the disk to perform as needed.

The role of Parkes in this historic event serves to give all the characters a sense of pride and a little spring in their step.  Buxton is a thoughtful, kind but remote man, who smokes a pipe, wears a lot of sweaters and will give out advice as needed.  He has buried himself in his work after the death of his wife.  His grieving takes the form of insulating himself in what he can control.

Around him, characters are searching for a bit more, and he has failed to see beyond his own walled-off pain.  You wonder, how can so many odd, but human characters populate one place.  I guess it is all in how you view them. The side stories are amusing and touching, you really feel for these folks and get involved in their lives.

The film stars Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton and John McMartin as names you would know.  The cast is filled with talented Australian actors in supporting roles. Directed by Australian director Rob Sitch, and written by a group of Australian writers/performers, I am surprised more has not been heard in North American from these folks, although they are quite successful down under.  Although the highest grossing film in Australia in 2000, The Dish’s box office around the world was fairly modest.

A 96 percent Tomatometer on

Take a look at the trailer and tell me you aren’t interested.  Go ahead. I dare you.


The moon landing was historic, it captivated the world. Americans were proud, but so were others who saw that big dreams can come true.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” – John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

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