Operation Avalanche is the second feature from Matt Johnson, the maverick filmmaker behind Nirvanna the Band the Show. Anyone familiar with that brilliant series will be unsurprised to learn that his 2016 movie is pretty weird.
The format and premise are notably similar to Johnson’s TV show, except instead of a band trying to get a gig, it follows a pair of CIA agents (Johnson and Owen Williams) trying to fake the moon landing. Set in 1967, the found-footage movie makes liberal use of guerrilla shooting and fair use law to imagine how a famous conspiracy theory might have played out.
An obsessive student of film, Johnson revels in Kubrick worship (the theory goes that the US government used special effects developed on 2001: A Space Odyssey) and perfectly captures the 1960s detail and cinematography. The fantastic soundtrack features Miles Davis’ Concierto de Aranjuez, Art Blakey’s Moanin’ and The Allman Brothers Band’s Whipping Post.
Ultimately the picture is more interesting than it is narratively or comedically satisfying. It suffers from Johnson being the only character, without the foil provided in Nirvanna the Band by Jay McCarrol (who handles music duties here). Operation Avalanche needn’t try to recreate their chemistry but some extra elements are required to elevate this cinephile experiment.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s no-budget ingenuity and unique approach to film as a form of infiltration make Operation Avalanche a decidedly creative act of lunarcy.