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Film / The Dish

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But I thought The Dish logo was a kangaroo...

The Dish is an Australian comedy from Working Dog Productions, directed by Rob Sitch.

It is set in the rural town of Parkes in 1969. In the middle of a sheep farm sits its main claim to fame: A large radio telescope, over which Australia and the United States are joining forces so that the Moon landing can be relayed to eager viewers across the world.

The Dish explores 1960s culture, specifically the cultural differences between Americans and Australians, whilst casting a comical eye over the people of the rural town. Sam Neill stars as Cliff, director of the Parks radio telescope facility.

Not to be confused with the spin-off of The Soup that ran on the Style channel, or former The New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan's news aggregator/blog.


Tropes include:

  • Anonymous Ringer: The Prime Minister's name and party affiliation are unrevealed; he is just called "Prime Minister", and his party is just referred to as "the Party". The actual PM at the time was John Gorton of the Liberal Party, but the PM in the movie is, like the rest of the movie, somewhat fictionalised.
  • Call-Back: Pieces of advice given earlier come back to give the boys the courage to go far beyond the call of duty (and the design tolerances of the dish) to make sure the signal goes through.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: It's obvious to everyone that Glenn and Jeanine like each other, but he has trouble admitting it. Towards the end of the film, he finally summons up the courage to ask her out.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land: The residents of Parkes are all endearingly eccentric in one way or another and their radio telescope is in the middle of a sheep paddock.
    • The fact that it's in a sheep paddock is Truth in Television. The rural location is far from potential sources of interference.
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  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Al, the NASA observer, points out that the Australian crew should have just told NASA that something had gone wrong, as things go wrong there all the time.
  • Cultural Cringe: Tensions between the natives and the visiting Americans.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mitch under pressure.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Cliff.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Janine.
  • Eagle Land: Interesting subversion. The main American character is a fairly quiet, unassuming, rather nerdy but obviously quite decent person. Mitch takes exception to him, however, purely because he's American and assumes he'll live up to the stereotypes he has of them, even though he doesn't in any way whatsoever.
    • The moody teenage daughter of the Mayor, Marie, calls America "cultural imperialists", keeps going on about Vietnam, calls the moon landing chauvinistic, and sneeringly asks if all the people in India will be watching it. She also thinks the mission is... well, her words:
      Marie (defiantly): Is this mission being funded by the CIA?
      Al: Not entirely.
      Marie: (uncertainly) Really?
      Al: No.
      • Al plays this so charmingly that when he says goodbye at the end of the meal, it's quite clear Marie has been won over.
  • Escalating War: Played subtly.
  • A Father to His Men: Cliff.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Played in-story. "More tea, Prime Minister?"
  • Genius Ditz: Glenn.
  • Gilligan Cut
  • Happily Married: The mayor and his wife.
    May: Don't call me Maisie in front of the ambassador!
    Bob: What do I care if some big shot yank sees that I love my wife?
    • The Directors' Commentary includes the comment that many films show marriages on the rocks, and they thought it would be nice to show a marriage that was working for a change.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Mitch protesting "We're a professional unit!" while in the middle of a cricket match played in the bowl of the Dish.
    • The Prime Minister wondering why the eponymous Dish is in the middle of a sheep paddock whilst standing in (Old) Parliament House. Old Parliament House was built in the middle of a sheep paddock.
  • Insistent Terminology: A Running Gag with the mayor's wife.
  • Ironic Echo: Cliff's advice comes back to bite him twice. Also of note: Cliff relates some very pertinent advice to Glenn - discussing his wife's advice in the face of his own fear of accepting the responsibility of being part of the Apollo programme, but clearly trying to get Glenn to realise that it has a wider application: "Failure is never quite so frightening as regret." Glenn muses this for a moment and responds "That's good advice... I wish someone would tell me that." (Cliff replies with a wry smile: "God bless you, Glenn!")
    • Also: "It's on its way to the Moon."
  • Mundane Solution: The team is panicking over just how the hell they're going to find Apollo 11—until Glen suggests pointing the dish at the Moon, which is where the spacecraft is going. This is after they've spent hours trying to calculate its position, covering an entire blackboard with equations.
  • Nerd Glasses: Glen has a pair of hornrimmed ones. Al sports the chunky black-framed type.
  • Never My Fault: Mitch tries to shift the blame when he forgets to prime the UPS pumps, leading to a total power loss when the power goes out and the dish losing track of Apollo 11.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing to an antagonist is the wind, which is blowing so hard that moving the dish to receive the signal would be dangerous.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Mitch seems quite jealous of NASA and all the resources it had at its disposal until Cliff points this out.
    Cliff: And what is NASA?
    Mitch: Oh it's money and equipment and everything else you could ever want on a silver platter.
    Cliff: No Mitch, NASA is just a bigger group of us.
  • Precision F-Strike: Delivered by the Prime Minister.
    PM: Bob, we have a saying in the Party: you don't fuck up...
    Bob: Yes?
    PM: That's it.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Arguably, the aforementioned cricket match and bullshitting of NASA.
  • Schizo Tech: Despite being based on a true story, the juxtaposition of one of the most powerful telescopes in the world with rural Australian life qualifies. It is both Lampshaded ("What's it doing in the middle of a sheep paddock?") and Justified (Parkes' weather and radio noise, or lack thereof).
  • Separated by a Common Language: Al's lack of understanding of Australian slang is played for laughs in places.
    Mitch: You treat us like a pack of galahs!
    (Al looks confused)
    Glenn (explaining): That's a type of parrot.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: The mayor. "What do I care if some big-wig Yank sees that I love my wife?"
  • The '60s: It is indirectly about Apollo 11
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There is a radio telescope at Parkes, and it did transmit the broadcast of Armstrong walking on the moon, and high winds did pose a concern. Much of the rest of the movie, including the power failure, is made up for Rule of Drama and Rule of Funny. As noted in the closing text, Parkes continues to be part of NASA missions to this day... and it's still in the middle of a sheep paddock.
    • The moment when Armstrong set foot on the moon, and his "one giant leap for mankind" quote, were broadcast by the Honeysuckle Creek dish. The Parkes dish did take over before the end of Armstrong's walk, however.
    • In fact, while its use for Apollo 11 was supplementing the smaller Honeysuckle Creek radio-dish, Parkes' larger antenna proved its worth during the rescue of Apollo 13 just 9 months later, as the explosion in the service-module took out the high-gain antenna, and Parkes was the only dish-antenna sensitive enough to pull in the signal from the LM's low-gain antenna amid the interference from the still-transmitting telemetry systems of the S-IVb upper-stage.
  • Wham Line:
    Glenn: Uh, I think the computer's wiped.
  • The Whole World Is Watching: There's an extended montage of people watching the moon landing, ranging from schoolchildren and residents of Parkes, Australia (where the satellite dish receiving the Apollo 11 signal is located) to people in several cities around the world to a group of American soldiers in Vietnam.
  • Wrong Song Gag: Bob announces the US National Anthem, but the clueless band plays the theme from Hawaii Five-O.
    • Only for one of the dignitaries visiting from the 'States to quip that they sometimes wish that was America's national anthem.
  • You Can't Miss It:
    Al: Southern Hemisphere's Prime Receiving Station has no idea where Apollo XI is?
    Glenn: Yeah, it's on its way to the Moon.
    • Later, they realise that this is actually a useful answer: since the spaceship is on its way to the Moon, with only a few thousand miles to go, it has to be within a few degrees of the Moon in the sky.