December 30, 2016


Starring Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, Ray James. Directed by Matt Johnson. (2016, 94 min).

Along with the JFK assassination, the notion that the Apollo moon landings were faked is one of the most infamous conspiracy theories of all time. Everyone from NASA to the CIA to Stanley Kubrick was involved, and we've been subjected to countless articles, books, TV shows and movies offering wild variations on the theory. If taken seriously (which you shouldn't), Operation Avalanche combines every paranoid suspicion into a single greatest hits package. But even paranoids might walk away from this one thinking, "So what?"

This is a found-footage mockumentary about two ambitious, low-level CIA agents tasked who infiltrate NASA posing as documentary filmmakers in order to root out a supposed Russian mole. When they discover that NASA is presently unable to get to the moon on schedule, Agent Johnson suggests using his film crew to fake the entire landing. This doesn't initially sit too well with the CIA or fellow Agent Williams, but they eventually go along with the elaborate ruse. Most of the film focuses on the crew's efforts to pull it off, even venturing to England, where director Stanley Kubrick is currently shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey, to get tips from the master. But it's soon obvious they are in over their heads and being watched, either by the Russians, their own government, or both.

"Peeps? I love Peeps!"
Operation Avalanche is one of those films where we admire the filmmakers' efforts far more than the finished product. The attention to period detail is impressive, as is the 16mm style in which it's shot. The cast, playing “themselves” (though I'm not sure how this renders it more authentic) is convincing and the mostly-improvised dialogue adds a considerable amount of realism to the proceedings. It's immediately obvious a huge amount of effort went into making the film look and sound like it came from the late 60s.

However, style – and a considerable helping of conceit - is really all it has going for it. Sure, we're impressed with how actual footage of Kubrick on-set is seemlessly worked into a scene, but it's basically just a special effects stunt saying, “Look what we can do.” Writer/director Matt Johnson also makes certain various classic film posters are prominent in numerous scenes, either as subtle narrative commentary or to show off his cinema smarts. These gimmicky, unnecessary distractions do little to help the actual story, which simply isn't interesting or suspenseful enough once the novelty of the director's bag of tricks wears off. The whole fake moon landing premise is so old-hat that this film feels like a waste of talent and resources.

As an interesting experiment, Operation Avalanche works...for about 30 minutes. While everyone involved deserves some kudos for trying something a bit different in the found footage genre, it doesn't amount to much you don't have some good old fashioned tension and drama to bail you out later.

Behind the Scenes: Operation Avalanche; Car Chase; Pool Party
The Making of Operation Avalanche”
The Creators Project: Reanimating Kubrick”
Writer/director Matt Johnson
Producer Matthew Miller, Editor Curt Lobb & FX Supervisor Tristan Zerafa
Directors of Photrography Andy Appelle & Jared Raab, Colorist Conor Fisher, 16mm Film Artist Pablo Perez

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