Operation Avalanche (2016)
Conspiracy theories and found footage movies. Two genres with infinite scope to be tedious and uninspired on a low budget. Yet writer and director Matt Johnson manages to do something quite clever with both cinematic styles in his recent movie Operation Avalanche. He takes the basic conceit of the two formats and uses them to tell a tale based upon one of the most iconic moments of twentieth century history. Namely the moon landing of 1969. The results are surprising, intelligent and thought provoking, although a little uneven. Furthermore, I discovered this enjoyable curiosity via the GoodBadFlicks on You Tube. If you are interested in obscure and niche market genre creations then do check out this channel. It is informative, well presented and entertaining.
Back to Operation Avalanche. Director Matt Johnson, casts himself along with Owen Williams and Josh Boles as three graduate film makers hired by the CIA for their “A/V program”. Their work is not taken particularly seriously by senior staff and the trio soon find themselves facing dismissal. However, thy manage to talk their way into joining an ongoing operation searching for a Russian mole at NASA. Posing as an official government documentary crew they soon discover that there isn’t a mole but there is a major design flaw in the Lunar Module. This effectively makes the entire moon mission impossible and therefore a political and propaganda nightmare. It is at this point that Johnson’s character suggests that they fake the moon landing, thus guaranteeing the United States’ standing on the world stage. His bosses are initially sceptical but soon back the idea when they see how the plan can be carried out.
The central plot is great idea and the movie has sufficient plausibility to allow viewers to suspend their sense of disbelief for the first two acts. There are many popular culture and historical references during the course of the film which bolster the proceedings. Perhaps the cheekiest plot device is the referencing of Stanley Kubrick who is already a prime suspect among conspiracy theorists for “faking” the moon landings. In this instance, the team of CIA film makers pose as journalists and talk their way into an interview with Kubrick. A subsequent visit to the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, allows them a chance to steal his special effects secrets and directly use them to help fabricate their own moon landing footage. I must admit this really did provoke an ironic chuckle from me. However, the estate of the late Stanley Kubrick did not see it this way and were singularly perturbed that his likeness had been used in such a fashion.
Unfortunately, the denouement of Operation Avalanche is somewhat disappointing. The CIA decides to clean house and eliminate any lose ends and the film develops into a formulaic chase scenario. This sadly mitigates the found footage angle of the plot. Up until this point the logic behind the plot device of continuously filming all that is happening is quite credible. Exactly why you would continue to do so when being pursued and shot at by government agents is questionable. Another minor niggle that works against the film is that the lead character, played by Matt Johnson, is not very likeable. He is bombastic, manipulative and a self-centred risk taker. These may well be necessary qualities in an agent but they’re hardly required traits in a cinematic hero. However, irrespective of its flaws, there’s a lot of creativity present in Operation Avalanche and it is sufficient to propel the movie forward at an entertaining pace. If we must have movies from such genres, then Operation Avalanche sets a solid precedence for the type we’d like more of.