Review: Operation Avalanche

Image Courtesy of XYZ Films

Operation Avalanche is a perplexing movie.  The advance word about it is not necessarily misleading; however, it is not at all what I expected it to be.  How would you interpret this statement:

“In 1967, four undercover CIA agents were sent to NASA posing as a documentary film crew. What they discovered led to one of the biggest conspiracies in American history.”

With the poster showing tweezers placing a cut-out of Earth onto a photo of an astronaut standing on the moon, it’s no secret that the movie, in general, is about faking the Apollo 11 moon landing. However, it looked to me like the documentary film crew sent to NASA would uncover the conspiracy faking it.  Instead, the crew discovers that NASA is unable to land a ship on the moon in time for the United States to win the space race, so members of the crew concoct a plan to fake the moon landing. They are the creators of the conspiracy.

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This isn’t really nitpicking. When seen to their fruitions, the two scenarios are vastly different.  What I thought the movie would be is a conspiracy thriller from the beginning, tense and exciting throughout.  Instead the movie is really a fairly straightforward, sometimes comic, behind the scenes story about faking the moon landing that turns into a conspiracy thriller only in its third act.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad approach. I imagine if Operation Avalanche had turned out as expected, I might be writing that it was a standard, predictable conspiracy thriller.  It’s at least different than that.  On the other hand, it’s definitely not as entertaining an approach.  At times, the movie is boring.  Plus, when the conspiracy finally begins to rear its head, the tone shifts and the story becomes a little confusing.

Matt Johnson and Owen Williams are two men in a young group of hotshots brought into a special program at the CIA. They’re first assigned to “Operation Deep Red” to investigate possible Soviet ties to film director Stanley Kubrick, who had just made Dr. Strangeglove.  When that work is completed, they ask to be part of Operation Zipper, which is investigating a possible mole at NASA.  They convince their boss that a documentary film crew would more inconspicuous than a standard CIA operative posing as a scientist.

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Throughout the movie, they’re able to convince their CIA superiors of a number of unbelievable things. If the movie is about the faking of the moon landing, though, you’ve already suspended your disbelief and can accept the contrivances that propel the story forward.  (Or, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, I guess you’ll be nodding your head and saying, “See, I told you!”)  Although I could foresee a connection coming between Kubrick and filming the manufactured footage, I accepted the coincidence.  All in all, it’s as “realistic” as it can be.

This might be a good time to mention that Operation Avalanche is a found footage film, so all of this is conveyed through the film of the documentary crew.  From this perspective, the movie does a better job than most of explaining why someone would be always carrying a camera during the action. Only at the very end are there some scenes that don’t technically make sense.  I prefer to believe that the narrative switches from first person to third person for those scenes.

If you’re interested in the notion that the moon landing wasn’t real, at least in 1969, you’ll probably enjoy the movie. You don’t have to take stand on whether it was or wasn’t real.  But if you’re looking for pure enjoyment, I’m actually going to recommend a different movie, 1977’s Capricorn One.  It’s a fictionalized version of the same story where a manned mission to Mars is faked.  That’s a movie designed to entertain. Operation Avalanche is more like an art house found footage film, and that’s less of a sure thing.

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