After creating two of the cleverest and most biting comedy shows ever with “The Late Show” and “Frontline”, I was eagerly looking forward to Working Dog’s 1997 flick “The Castle” – and was massively disappointed. Though my opinion was in a definite minority, I thought the movie was just – well boring.
The humour had the dull ‘ocker’ quality (a bit like “Northern Exposure” times ten) and the story was just so sentimental and good moraled I had to force myself to stay in my chair to watch it. Sure there was some inspired moments (namely the inept lawyer, and the multicultural neighbour meeting in the garage scenes) but the rest was just ‘the battlers fighting against the big guys’ story which has been done countless times before. Thankfully “The Panel” has since restored my faith in WD, though in its third year it needs a little bit of a reworking.
That said I went into the Dish not sure what to expect. Partial anticipation cause the idea sounded good and the shorts looked fun, partial dread due to ‘The Castle’. Coming out I was very satisfied – this is a major improvement on the Castle in terms of both technical merit and entertainment level. The humour is much more consistent throughout and is both smarter and more appealing – there’s no real ‘roll on the floor’ laughs or memorable sequences, rather it’ll leave you chuckling throughout its entire runtime.
The other big improvement is the drama with the ’emotional scenes’ never dragging down the pace or becoming too sentimental – each fits with the story (unlike the Castle’s ‘brother in jail’ scenes which leave one scratching their head wondering why its included).
The storyline is actually split in two with half the movie concentrating on the fellows running the Dish, the other half showing how the townsfolk (specifically The Mayor and his family) react to the news. That second half is purely for comic relief and works perfectly with the different personalities of the town characters playing off each other with great result. The workers around the dish is half jokes/half drama.
While most of the gags with each character is one-note (ie. American not understanding Aussie slang, the over-anxious guard) they work, with Kevin Harrington as the sarcastic dish aligner being the best. The drama on the other hand is a little more hit and miss – Harrington’s subplot about his anger toward the American doesn’t really click though thankfully is resolved pretty early. Sam Neill’s wife storyline on the other hand works with a deft touch, whilst the moon landing related scenes, although overly long toward the end, run smoothly.
The soundtrack with the movie contains some great 60’s tunes though at times they’re played so loud that it ruins the mood on the screen. There’s also a prologue/coda to the movie which is startlingly unoriginal and ordinary – Sam Neill remembering the events through flashback (much like “Saving Private Ryan”) which was totally unneeded.
Nevertheless despite the minor weaknesses, the rest of the movie runs superbly. It lacks that flair and unique flavour which’ll make it remembered along the lines of such flicks as “The Adventures of Priscilla” and “Muriel’s Wedding”, but its certainly the highlight of Aussie film this year and one of the best in the past five.