Some months ago, I started paying a pretty high level of attention to website DVDSpot’s “statistics” capability as regards any members DVD collection. I discovered Sam Neill, my favourite actor, was very, very far down on the list of my “Top 20 Actors” (based on the number of releases my collection has with each actor, in decreasing order). So I went to IMDb and began to check filmographies (this is how I also ended up with an extended list of James Woods and Christopher Walken movies on wishlists, amongst others) adding films that looked interesting and were well reviewed with my favourite actors, especially Mr. Neill. This one caught my eye and happened to show up in a sale near the beginning of this year, so I jumped on it.
This is the (sort of–as always–true) story of the group of men running the Parkes Observatory in Parkes, New South Wales, Australia during the historic 1969 moon landing. Heading the group is Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill, of course!), a sort of fatherly, or maybe more accurately “uncle-y” figure to the other boys, as he is not only an authority figure (known affectionately as “the Dishmaster”) but also a colleague, though unchallenged in his leadership position. Under him are Ross “Mitch” Mitchell (Kevin Harrington, who reminds me of John Scurti from Rescue Me) and Glenn Latham (Tom Long), the techs who maintain and run the dish, as well as NASA representative Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton, who I remember most as a similarly dressed but much goofier character in Men in Black II). The town of Parkes is terribly small and thoroughly unknown, so while the boys are excited to be a part of the project, the town itself is full of joy at this role they’ve found their town playing, with Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing, wonderfully, cheerfully and amusingly ignorant and oblivious as only movie politicians can be) excited to find “vindication” for his insistence on the dish’s construction in the town (though his aide suspects his motivation for excitement).
Mitch is the sarcastic one of the bunch, making great fun of Glenn at most opportunities he’s given, but never cruelly, and engaging in a bit of rivalry with Al as the high-fallutin’ American representative (all of the nationalistic conflict is purely good fun). Glenn is that overly nervous nerdy type who is scared to death of women and rejection, despite the attention paid to him by the very pretty Janine Kellerman (Eliza Szonert), who does not always follow the humour or ideas laid out by Mitch. Al is not always good at following the Australian slang of the three natives, but they’re always happy to translate whoever is speaking too passionately to stop and think.
The movie is actually charmingly funny and quite heart-warming, with some great, easygoing humour and a bit of absurdity. Some of the most amusing characters are Cameron (Billy Mitchell) who is an overly enthusiastic military cadet with a crush on the mayor’s daughter (who has recently found feminism and politics of the most grating sort–using them only to accuse people of persecution, not to advance anyone–and becomes an amusing bit herself) and a great admiration for her father “Major McIntyre” and his real military experience and Rudi (Tayler Kane) who is the radio telescope’s security guard, who takes his job entirely too seriously, assigning codenames to all locations and changing them constantly, excitedly making use of the walkie-talkies and his “required” firearm, making sure to “officially authorize” his sister Janine’s entry. The dish, it should be noted He has one of the funniest lines of dialogue I’ve heard in a long time, but, as always, I can’t bring myself to ruin it. And it’s a total throwaway line, too!
Final note? Shame about the coverart–Sam’s great, but the original coverart (seen in some Region 2 releases) is perfect–