Conspiracy theories are stories we tell ourselves because we want to believe they’re true, from the grassy knoll to little green men at Area 51. These stories are modern fairy tales, letting us keep believing there’s a secret world where strange and fantastic things happen, where it’s dark and danger is everywhere. In an Internet-everywhere world, nobody believes in the Big Bad Wolf. Operation Avalanche is a story for those who want to believe the Apollo 11 lunar landing was an elaborate hoax. Directed by and starring Matt Johnson, this thriller offers a version of events in which the CIA colluded with NASA to convince the world the United States had beaten the Soviets in the race to the moon, primarily through the efforts of up-and-coming CIA agents Matt Johnson (Matt Johnson) and Owen Williams (Owen Williams).
Operation Avalanche is visually impressive. Mixing archival footage with newly filmed scenes usually looks pretty bad. Johnson blends the two eras as seamlessly as I’ve ever seen. This is critical for Avalanche because its narrative has a found-footage feel. CIA agents Johnson (Johnson) and Williams (Williams) go undercover as a documentary crew at NASA. In a bizarre art-imitating-life-imitating-art twist, this is how Johnson actually shot Operation Avalanche at NASA. Johnson and Williams posed as film students to gain entry to NASA facilities. Once inside, the filmmakers carried out their ruse, pretending to make a documentary. I’m guessing the actors and their characters share the same names because it made getting into NASA easier. Obviously, NASA wouldn’t have let them shoot as much as a selfie had they known what was really going on.
All the best conspiracy theories are impossibly complicated. In that spirit, this movie is charmingly convoluted. Johnson’s exuberant performance helps keep stretches of dense exposition from feeling boring or overly technical. For complexity, this movie has a full plate, thank you very much. That’s why the characters seem to work despite very little development. The audience must make inferences to glean the characters’ motivations. Besides an intertitle describing these aspiring spies as ambitious, it’s hard to tell what anybody wants. If more time had been spent fleshing out the characters’ hopes, dreams, and aspirations, the movie would have been bloated, diminishing the suspense. Viewers are left to decide for themselves where the truth lies, in perfect keeping with conspiracy theories.
It’s not easy to make a thriller about two guys pretending to land on the moon. Avalanche does a great job of ratcheting up the stakes as the plot unfolds. Johnson’s character is nothing if not ambitious. As Johnson climbs the ranks of the CIA, the inevitable question becomes whether he’s heading for his Icarus moment. Internal and external threats, some in plain sight and others in the shadows, present themselves to Agent Johnson as he gets closer to pulling off his hoax. Does it matter that we don’t know anything about who Agent Johnson is? Of course not. Nor does it matter that the actor’s Canadian accent slips through every once in a while.
I’ve never been swayed by conspiracies. After watching Operation Avalanche, I’m still not. Luckily, you don’t have to be a member of the tin foil hat set to appreciate this movie. This isn’t a thesis on how the U.S. Government faked the lunar landing. Rather, its emphasis is telling an exciting story. That the filmmakers stitched together a coherent narrative with a combination of scripted and spontaneous dialogue is remarkable. As a conspiracy pessimist, I was even more impressed that they offered a plausible explanation (by Hollywood standards) of how this scheme could work without hundreds, even thousands of people keeping the world’s biggest secret. Operation Avalanche is a fun movie, just don’t overthink it. Or maybe that’s exactly what they want you to do…
|Release Date:||September 16, 2016|