Operation Avalanche (2016)

For some reason, 2016 brought two movies based on one of the goofiest conspiracy theories out there, that classic bit of internet paranoia, the belief that the Moon Landing was faked – and, that final, irresistible fillip that truly makes this the paranoid conspiracy theory of paranoid conspiracy theories, the suggestion that the great director himself, the man responsible for 2001:  A Space Odyssey, the one and only Stanley Kubrick, was the man responsible for creating that footage.

However, unlike Moonwalkers, which played the notion out as the basis for a bloody comedy, Operation Avalanche instead offers us documentary supposedly assembled from a cache of documentary footage, filmed as part of a CIA investigation’s cover story.

Matt Johnson and Owen Williams first made a name for themselves with the faux documentary The Dirties, , and they return to that format again, once again playing two eager young men – CIA agents, this time – who just happen to be named Matt Johnson and Owen Williams.  Matt wants a plum assignment – going undercover to find a Russian mole at NASA – and he manages to sell the Agency on his plan:  he and his crew will pose as a film crew making a documentary about NASA.

Unfortunately, his wiretaps reveal a far more disturbing secret:  NASA has run into serious engineering snag and they wont be able to put a man on the Moon for at least five years!

That means they won’t be able to achieve President Kennedy’s goal of reaching the Moon before the Seventies – and that means, whether they get there or not, the Soviets will win!

So Matt quickly comes up with a new plan:  fake it.  Film some footage of the Astronauts walking on the moon, and broadcast it from the orbiting capsule itself!

But when their first attempts just aren’t good enough, Matt goes to spy on the latest production by the director he and Owen just investigated:  Stanley Kubrick!

While Owen has never been comfortable with Matt’s ambitions, he is appalled by their new mission because of its fundamental dishonesty, leaving Matt to rely on the newest member of their team, a gung-ho agent who may not be telling Matt everything.

This is an impressive film.  It re-creates the late-Sixties in apparently flawless detail, shows us how they created the fake landing, lets us in on a few of Stanley Kubricks special effects tricks, gives us a secret camera view behind the scenes of 2001 (I was floored to learn that what I’d assumed was surviving video from that production had, in fact, been created from stills!), and even gives us glimpse of Matt’s character editing his footage into the film we are watching.  It also handles the shift from comedy to something rather more unsettling very well – and the alternate plan the CIA prefers is deeply shocking and very appropriately spooky.

It’s hard to believe this was Matt’s thesis film, as it does what it does so well.  It certainly makes you wonder what he’ll do next.

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