SXSW 2016 Review | ‘Operation Avalanche’ Puts a Scam on the Moon
On July 21, 1969 the first human being walked on the surface of the moon. Or rather, that’s what the government WANTS you to believe.
The fact of the matter is that despite a mountain of tangible evidence proving that the moon landings were indeed real, a lot of people still believe that they were all faked on a sound stage. Heck, some people even think that 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick directed them, but that’s preposterous. We all know it was 21st century independent filmmaker Matt Johnson who was responsible for that iconic footage. And if you need any proof then all you have to do is watch his inventive new motion picture Operation Avalanche.
Operation Avalanche is a mockumentary starring Matt Johnson and Owen Williams as alternate reality versions of themselves, working in the A/V department of the CIA in the 1960s. Ambitious to a fault, they manage to finagle their way into a top secret investigation into the hallways of NASA, and then they stumble across the shocking news that landing on the moon and then getting back to Earth will be impossible.
Instead of simply reporting what they’ve learned, Johnson concocts an outrageous scheme to fake the moon landing by using innovative visual effects, all of them stolen from the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. The CIA decides it’s worth a shot, and so Johnson and Williams set about the task of inventing the greatest motion picture in history, from the ground up, writing all of the dialogue and coming up with the incidents like they were junior executives in an all-night development meeting.
That right there is probably the real genius behind Operation Avalanche. It’s one thing to make a movie about a conspiracy theory and another thing altogether to humanize it. Matt Johnson’s film smartly realized that faking the moon landings would play out a lot like the production of any other movie, with a filmmaker making outrageous promises and then actually being required to deliver the goods. Making a movie is a tense situation already. Adding CIA spooks, Soviet spies and scary car chases into the mix is just delicious, tangy gravy.
Operation Avalanche is a film for nerds, of the film, science and conspiracy variety. The attention to detail is astounding and the obsession with art and history is infectious. Matt Johnson’s film sags a bit in the middle, where the drama frequently takes a breather to let the film focus more on all that obsessive-compulsive specificity, but it never gets dull. At most, it probably could have been tightened up a little bit, but these are the problems most movies would kill for.
With Operation Avalanche, Matt Johnson has made a truly wonderful film. It’s so cleverly conceived and intriguingly realized that any of its flaws seem relatively minor. Young filmmakers should take a hard look at Operation Avalanche, a film that speaks to the journey of making movies, appreciates the medium’s power, and challenges fellow storytellers to come up with innovative ideas of their own.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.