'Operation Avalanche' Is Lo-Fi For Film Geeks And Conspiracy Theorists

By James Jay Edwards
Released: September 23, 2016
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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.

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Film Review
Taking place in 1967 right as the Space Race between the US and the USSR was heating up, Operation Avalanche is about a pair of CIA agents named Owen Williams and Matt Johnson who are sent into NASA to uncover a mole planted by the KGB to sabotage the Apollo moon landing program. Filmmakers themselves, Owen and Matt pose as documentary directors who are making a movie about the program, but their primary objective is to uncover and flush out the Russian spy. During their investigation, they learn that the Apollo program has no chance of success, so their mission changes; the filmmakers are told to construct a fake moon landing video that can be sent into space and beamed back, essentially fooling the world into believing that the US has landed on the moon. Owen and Matt embrace their new challenge, but it soon becomes apparent that there are dangers that come with their new assignment, both foreign and domestic.

While it's not trying to pretend that it's a true documentary, Operation Avalanche is a great example of guerilla filmmaking. Matt Johnson and Owen Williams both essentially play themselves in the film, with Johnson directing and sharing the writing duties with Josh Boles (who also has a role in the movie). It's a found footage movie, as the audience pretty much sees what the agents shoot during their mission, for better or worse. What starts as a conspiracy theory movie turns into a tense espionage thriller until, finally, it goes full-on shaky cam Blair Witch in the final act.

Operation Avalanche, photo courtesy Zapruder Films/Lionsgate 2016, All rights reserved.

Operation Avalanche is a film geek's movie, and that's because Matt and Owen are basically film geeks. At one point, the guys track down Stanley Kubrick and visit him on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey to get a few pointers, and the irony that Kubrick consulted NASA to make sure his space movie would look authentic and NASA, therefore, used Kubrick's front screen projection techniques to help lend authenticity to their space movie is not lost on anyone. And yes, through an ingenious visual effect that essentially uses animation to bring still photographs to life, Stanley Kubrick appears in the film, and he looks just like he stepped out of the sixties.

Because of their overabundance in the horror genre, found footage movies tend to get a bad rap with critics and audiences alike. However, Operation Avalanche is a very different kind of found footage movie. Of course, it's not a horror movie, but the differences are more than that. Operation Avalanche uses the lo-fi approach to reveal its secrets slowly and steadily. And that makes it a lot of fun to watch.
Because it's a faux-documentary that purports to have been made in the sixties, Operation Avalanche uses older technologies. Most of the footage is captured on 8mm celluloid in an almost square aspect ratio, at least until a point in the movie where Matt and Owen tell their superiors that they're going to have to buy them better cameras and BAM! the film suddenly shifts into a proper frame. The grainy and gritty film look remains, though, as does the instability that comes with the covert filming that the guys do for much of the movie. The cheap film look gives Operation Avalanche an aesthetic that, in a pre-The Blair Witch Project climate and released by more nefarious means, might fool some tinfoil hat, Earth-is-flat type of conspiracy theorists into believing that its real. But that's the point of it; the lo-fi look sells the picture.

Operation Avalanche, photo courtesy Zapruder Films/Lionsgate 2016, All rights reserved.

Release Date
September 23, 2016
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