- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

Confirmed moviegoers can encounter an edifying contrast this weekend in Ted Demmes "BLOW" and Rob Sitchs "The Dish." While the disreputable protagonist of the former was busy selling cocaine in Southern California, the estimable heroes of the latter were involved in the climactic event of a great exploration: the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.
Made by the same disarming and deft team of Australian humorists responsible for "The Castle" two years ago, "The Dish" retrieves an obscure chapter of Apollo 11 lore that reflects proudly on their countrymen while also reminding forgetful or younger Americans of how much the manned space program meant to well-wishers beyond the United States.
Acquired by Warner Bros., "The Dish" should have an easier time getting into a position to endear itself to American moviegoers than "The Castle," released with a minimum of fanfare by Miramax.
Mr. Sitch is partnered with a trio of co-writers who also shoulder production chores while he calls the shots as director: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Jane Kennedy. They work with an unemphatic confidence, playfulness and congeniality that result in probably the most satisfying comic tone achieved in movies since Bill Forsyth was at the top of his game in the 1980s with "Local Hero" and "Comfort and Joy."
Those titles also would harmonize with "The Dish," which celebrates the small-town enthusiasm and perseverance that distinguished residents of a rural community named Parkes, in New South Wales, and the staff at its awesome, incongruous landmark, a huge radio telescope located on the outskirts of a sheep pasture, during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recruited the Parkes site as its backup transmitter for television images of the anticipated descent to the lunar surface by astronaut Neil Armstrong and the subsequent moon walk he took with Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.
Circumstances and scheduling changed, placing Parkes in the batters box, so to speak, instead of the prime NASA dish at Goldstone in Californias Mojave Desert.
As a result, the first television pictures of Mr. Armstrongs famous steps were relayed from the installation in Australia, a sidelight destined to be obscured by many other aspects of the achievement.
Even Australians seem to have misplaced this legitimate source of national pride, according to Mr. Sitch.
He and his colleagues enhance it with several fond and good-natured fabrications while also exploiting some authentic lapses for comic suspense: Parkes lost radio contact with the spacecraft for several hours as it was approaching lunar orbit, and the television transmission was jeopardized by a sudden windstorm that gusted up to 30 knots, creating doubt about whether it was prudent to maneuver the dish into an optimum receiving position.
The movie alternates between two principal settings: the town, where mission fever is rising, especially in the home of Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), the civic booster and visionary who championed the astronomic installation in the first place, and the dish, where a NASA representative named Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton) masters diplomacy and rapport with his Australian counterparts. They are Sam Neill as the widowed and steady Cliff Buxton, Kevin Harrington as the sarcastic Mitch and Tom Long as the timid Glenn.
A tentative, tongue-tied romance is contrived around Glenn and winsome Janine (Eliza Szonert), who delivers meals and provides a blank slate for elementary scientific summaries.
Dish security is entrusted solely to Janines brother Rudy, who has only sheep to fear as intruders and enjoys a wonderful moment of misapprehension when he believes he has an intercom connection with moon walker Armstrong.
The apprehension and elation that characterized the mission are evoked beautifully. Mr. Sitch makes especially admirable choices when inserting and sustaining key highlights: the launch countdown at Cape Kennedy; the landing of Eagle, the lunar module; and, of course, Mr. Armstrongs commentary as he descends the Eagles ladder to become the first man on the moon.
The director isnt skittish about these portentous moments; he holds them long enough to get full emotional value out of their immediate and lasting resonance.
Its a little maddening to reflect that "The Dish" might remain ghettoized as an art-house attraction, despite the fact that it probably speaks more directly to American sentiments and susceptibilities than all but a handful of Hollywood movies.
The reissue of "2001: A Space Odyssey" later this year will underscore the fact that were lagging well behind its vision of moon bases and manned expeditions to Jupiter at the turn of the century.
"The Dish" comes as a welcome, richly affectionate reminder of how satisfying it was to witness the first steps on that suspended epic of manned exploration.
A modest proposal: If the "Superman" series is revived, the best new candidate for the title role has to be Patrick Warburton. Watching him in "The Dish" whets an appetite for what he could do with the Clark Kent masquerade.

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