Celluloid-sniffing cinephiles, conspiracy theorists and alternate-history enthusiasts alike should have a field day with Matt Johnson’s faux-documentary, a technically deft, but tonally flat blend of fact and fiction that posits a different backstory to the historic 1969 moon landing of Apollo 11. According to Operation Avalanche, this momentous occasion was entirely fabricated, a far-out, elaborate scheme cooked up by the CIA’s AV team, led by Johnson, in a bid to get ahead in the US-Soviet space race. NASA, we’re told, can fly to the moon, but can’t land anyone there. They’re also hoping to flush out a Russian mole lurking in their midst. Imagine Primer’s homespun ingenuity in service of a found footage Capricorn One remake, and you’re nearly there.
Better as a tribute to the lost art of analog filmmaking and practical effects than a paranoid espionage thriller, Operation Avalanche enthralls the viewer with its geeked-out know-how and period aesthetic. Credit to Johnson for making it all look as effortless as it does. The extra length he goes to expound the intricacies of frame rates and film-to-broadcast transfers, scout for land formations and rock types to emulate the moon’s surface, seamlessly integrate fictional characters into existing archival footage (Kubrick has an amusing cameo) — there’s a level of detail on display that’s admirable in its obsessiveness and dedication. Yet for all its cunning wizardry, Operation Avalanche would have benefited from a stronger emotional core. Johnson isn’t able to bring more than restless bluster to his character. Operation Avalanche is supremely crafty, but one wishes it had a bigger soul to ground its arch machinations.
‘Operation Avalanche’ Movie Times