“Operation Avalanche” offers a fun, albeit insubstantial, dose of historical trickery, directly taking on one of the most potent and pervasive of 20th century conspiracy theories: that NASA, with a healthy assist from Stanley Kubrick, faked the moon landing.
The movie is a technical marvel, a found-footage mockumentary that simulates 16 mm and other period formats, effectively mimicking a covert mid-’60s piece while toying with the fourth wall by including scenes shot by filmmaker and star Matt Johnson at the real NASA, under the guise of a student documentary.
Of course, that means the behind-the-scenes movie about the making of “Operation Avalanche” conceivably could be as interesting as the movie itself. That’s ordinarily a bad sign but in this case it only enhances the renegade appeal.
Johnson and Owen Williams play CIA agents assigned to NASA in a bid to root out a Soviet mole, who wind up entrusted with the weighty responsibility of staging the Apollo 11 landing to save face in the space race at the height of the Cold War.
The picture obsessively chronicles their efforts, down to the most minute details. It’s a plausible reconstruction of how this fantasy might have played out, with an elaborate explanation for how to overcome every conceivable obstacle, and it’s filled with details geared directly toward film buffs.
There aren’t too many other movies that have featured a character excitedly extolling the virtues of Kubrick’s revolutionary front projection system, famously incorporated in achieving the photorealism of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” after sneaking onto the groundbreaking movie’s set.
The characters and their relationships don’t actually matter in the least, and the movie doesn’t offer much in the way of genuinely compelling drama.
It’s an exercise in special effects and sleight of hand rather than the telling of a story that connects on a deeper level.
But the fact remains that in “Operation Avalanche” Johnson has found a new way to approach one of the most frequently-depicted historical events.
He’s done so with an impeccable grasp of the tools at his disposal, crafting a movie that is ultimately about nothing more than the movies themselves, in all their misleading glory.