It's 1969, and in a world embraced in turmoil, NASA is trying to successfully land the first human on the moon. As it turns out, an integral part of this plan hinges on the small community of Parkes, Australia, where the biggest radio telescope in the world is located. This dish is to be one of two primary links that will communicate with and record the astronauts; an incredibly important job that falls to three very unimportant town residents.
Aided by a single NASA engineer (played by Patrick "Puddy" Warburton), the three become heroes in a small town that is getting a taste of global exposure for the first time. Capable though they may be, a simple mistake puts the entire mission in jeopardy, and the foursome go to comical lengths to provide a cover-up for the benefit of NASA as well as a visiting dignitary.
Now, the main problem with this film (and Australian films in general) is it suffers from the dreaded Bill Forsyth disease (the director of hilariously quirky films about the hilariously quirky residents of hilariously quirky small towns such as the ones in Local Hero). In The Dish, director Rob Sitch proudly picks up this mantle, parading character after quirky character until one's eyes feel like they might roll out of one's head. To his credit, however, the annoyance is never overwhelming, and there are a few genuinely gut-busting moments of fun.
But even more importantly, Sitch captures the wonder and excitement of that awe-inspiring first moon landing, better than Spielberg could ever dream of doing. And what could have been just another dumb Australian comedy is ultimately a sweet meditation about discovering that not all our heroes wind up in the newspapers.