The Dish looks lightly at the ’60s space race

Audiences looking for a little space nostalgia and impressive editing effects will find a treasure in The Dish, which tells the story of an Australian satellite dish crew working during the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk in 1969. Introducing viewers to the operators of the Parkes radio telescope, Director Rob Sitch creates a realistic film with genuine characters.

There are occasions in the The Dish (Warner Brothers) when chief satellite operator Cliff Burton, played by Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), and the other characters miss the mark, and some background stories seem to be more of an afterthought than carefully scripted segments. The plot slows at a few points, and the obstacles the scientists must tackle feel unrealistic and more suited for a bad sitcom. But overall the film attains its goal, painting a vivid picture of an important piece of American history.

On a certain level, The Dish is a nostalgic movie for baby-boomers and senior citizens, inviting them to relive the hype they experienced when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. College audiences may feel a bit young to fully relate to the experience. But the film is all-inclusive, drawing viewers of any age into the thrill of the space race. The Dish is as energizing as Apollo 13, vividly portraying the excitement of life during the period.

Just as Saving Private Ryan functions as a monument to the veterans of World War II, The Dish uses a similar technique as it stresses the importance of those who worked behind the scenes to bring NASA its early successes. James Ryan appears during the opening and closing shots of Saving Private Ryan, and Sam Neill appears in The Dish at the beginning and end, wistfully wandering around the dish remembering when he managed it so many years ago.

The film convincingly portrays the cultural significance placed on the Apollo program during the ’60s. As the operators of the only dish in the hemisphere capable of receiving video broadcasts from astronauts, the characters Cliff and NASA Representative Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton) feel the pressure their decisions have on the incredulous world watching the first moonwalk. The characters describe the mission as “science’s moment” that 600 million people are watching.

Particularly impressive are the video montages of important events and feelings during the space race. The movie’s introduction includes bits from President John F. Kennedy’s speech vowing that the United States will travel to the moon, and the images from the early space program. Archival footage adds to the poignancy of the film’s climax. Natural editing and thoughtful presentation make the montages especially emotional, putting the Australian story in its historical context. The original scenes for The Dish then appear as only a small but important page in the whole Apollo endeavor.

The Dish stands as a tribute to the ground workers of the Apollo program, and passionately shows the effect that the program had on those who were able to witness the historical event. The Dish successfully captivates viewers, inviting them to share the magical feeling the world felt during the first lunar landing.

The Dish is in theaters Friday

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