Operation Avalanche Dissected Explained Discussed

Operation Avalanche Dissected Explained Discussed - wherein we talk through the details and the convoluted nature of this film... because we can! I adored this movie.
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Operation Avalanche Dissected Explained Discussed
Stories within stories, and plots inside plots hatching plots? Mind blowing matryoshka dolls of possibilities? That is, in the simplest of terms, good entertainment. But what’s better than a matryoshka doll movie? Simple enough, it’s a nesting doll story that splashes out into reality. And boy do I have a great story for you guys today in that respect. That is exactly what the guys that created Operation Avalanche have for us today. Have you already seen it? I am so so late to this particular game. Sorry everyone for letting you down. But, don’t worry, I’m sure you haven’t seen it yet! hahah.

So to put this as succinctly as I can – someone walked into NASA and said, can you allows on premises to do a documentary about the Apollo moon landings? And they said, SURE! Come on in, and we’ll give you a tour, and let you have access to do some great interviews. Then, while there, they actually make a movie about how NASA made a faked movie lunar landing instead of doing the real thing. And all of a sudden, I am more mind blown by the filming of this inside out movie than I am about the movie itself. The film was written by Matt Johnson and Owen Boles, both of whom had to play themselves in the movie for obvious reasons. When they interviewed NASA employees, they got one take. When they walked the hallways with the cameras rolling they got one go at it. And by utilizing a legal loophole called “Fair Use”, Johnson and Boles were able to create a movie about how NASA created a fake movie about landing on the moon with NASA’s help. Here, check out this interview between Slashfilm and Johnson and the realization of what Johnson had done:

Johnson: “…in terms of doing illegal stuff, we take it to the limit in this show.
Slashfilm: “Can you define illegal? What kind of illegal things did you do to get Operation Avalanche made?”
Johnson: “I can define it pretty easily. It’s shooting with people in places without permission and involving people in a movie that don’t want to be involved. If that makes any sense.”
Slashfilm: “Can you give me a specific example?”

editorial comment – I adore how Slashfilm just wasn’t getting it. Like, AT ALL, up until this point. ‘So, like, an example maybe? And then Johnson is like, LET ME SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU…

Johnson: We snuck into NASA. All of the stuff we shot there, we shot without their permission.
Slashfilm: “No shit? Really?”
Johnson: “Yeah.”
Slashfilm: “I didn’t realize that. That’s amazing. I honestly thought those were sets.”
Johnson: Oh, yeah. We went there saying we were going for a tour and they said okay and we filmed the whole movie.”
Slashfilm: “But…how did you get away with this?”
Miller: “Because they didn’t know we had done it until we were gone. And our lawyer said that once you leave with the footage, it’s yours. It’s the same lawyer who worked on that movie Escape From Tomorrow.”

See? This is the kind of brilliance that is Operation Avalanche! It’s so mind blowing that even interviewers in the movie industry are having their minds blown by the idea. Have you guys seen Escape From Tomorrow? I chose not to write about it here because it was pretty dark, but it was made in a similar fashion to how Johnson and crew made Avalanche. They headed to Disney World and just shot the film. And when Disney came after them, they lawyered up and used “Fair Use” as the capstone of their defense. And it worked.

And because you haven’t seen this amazing film yet – queue the trailer!

So the premise of the movie is, that Kennedy said, we are going to put man on the moon by 1969. A few intelligence operatives insert themselves into NASA to find a mole that has been leaking information to Russia. And in so doing, learn that NASA can’t get a man actually on the moon until 1972 or or so, thereby missing Kennedy’s deadline significantly. So instead of actually going to the moon… they decide to orbit the moon, and then play a movie of men on the moon that was made with the help of Stanley Kubrick. Right? This is the stuff of legends. Johnson and crew should be given medals in my opinion. (Minus the fact that we are now living in a post-truth era and dorks are heralding this movie as one more evidence of this truth of the conspiracy, but we will talk about that at the end. I promise.)

With that said, I am going way deep into this rabbit hole now baby. If you have yet to see the movie – rent it at Google Play, Amazon, Netflix, I don’t know, Blockbusters? It’s out there right now. Go watch it.

The Play’s The Thing

In Hamlet, Hamlet decides to stage a play for his mother and step-father, about a King that kills his brother, in order to see if the new King’s conscious is pricked. And on the other end of the moral continuum, Johnson decides to film a movie that will save the nation’s bacon after Kennedy promised to send America to the moon. We can’t do it. But it was such a big vision, we need to show the world we “did it”. So Johnson shows Director Brackett his test shots (sand, moonsuit, slowed down video, the works) and he buys off on the idea.

Johnson – “Stanley Kubric is making a new movie about the moon landing. And I’m willing to bet, that we can use the special effects that he is doing there to do this.
Boles – “K, but, you can’t just walk onto a film set.”
Johnson – “He has two NASA scientists advising him. We are going to go and say we are going to interview them. Do you see what’s going on here? Kubrick is getting NASA to guarantee that his space movie looks like the real space. And so we’re going to use his space movie, to make sure the real space movie, looks like space. Do you understand how crazy that is?!?”

Well, it’s either that… or the United States of America is going to have to shoot the rocket down and say that the Russians did it.


Apparently Brackett is of the mind that if we can’t land on the moon, we are better off shooting the rocket down, and blaming the Russians than we are to fail. Failure just isn’t an option. Which is when the movie takes a decidedly darker turn and the guys start realizing the hot water that they are in. Owen begins sounding the alarm. They begin seeing people tail them at parties and events and even outside their houses, etc.

Apollo 11 Launch 

When it comes time for the actual launch, Matt Johnson is beginning to tear down the lander, the stage, and any evidence that might have been lying around. And possibly the best shot of the movie is watching the launch of the Apollo 11 rocket, while also watching the fake lander burn. Seemed like a perfect metaphor to frame up the entirety of the movie and the downward spiral at had become at that point.

And it’s at this point that it really takes a nose dive. Owen calls and says that he’ll meet Johnson at his hotel room. But when Johnson arrives at his hotel room it’s been completely ransacked… and not only that, but there are people out front watching him. My favorite scene of the movie was definitely the long cut car chase that happens between (supposedly) the CIA and Johnson and Jerry. I have read quite a bit about how they made this chase scene happen (CGI for the bullets in the glass, single car that they knew they could trash, and a cameraman that had to work extra hard to sell the chase with his framing (which reminds me a lot of the movie Victoria, but I digress)) but even after seeing it finally, I was still impressed with how authentic it was, and how well done it was. Give me a car chase like this over a 007 comic version any day. 

And after they lost the other car, Johnson goes to find Owen at his house, and finds him hanging in his garage. Which seems to give even more levity to an already tense film at this point. The only thing left is the conversation between Johnson and Director Brackett, whom he calls at the local bar.

Director Brackett “We’ve been looking for you.”

Johnson “I’ll give you my location for the names of the agents on your kill team.”

Director Brackett “I don’t know what you are talking about? Come in and I will give you your own department.”

Johnson “Do you think I’m stupid?”

Director Brackett “Keep the film as collateral and just think about it.”

After that, Johnson walks across the street and watches the moon landing happen that he recorded, scripted and choreographed. He is standing next to other people and thinking back on how everything fell a part and caused the death of his friend.

Operation Avalanche Explained & Discussed

If you look at Johnson and his arc as he flowed from the beginning to the end of this movie you’ll have a good idea of what happened in this movie. We started out with a guy who was DYING to make it big… to make a big impression… to get promoted… to have an impact. He is idealistic. He is naive. And he becomes a pawn for the more realistic members of the intel services. The CIA sees Johnson as a great, hey what if. And so they give him some line and see what happens. But as the plan becomes more and more realistic things become more and more dangerous for Johnson and his once merry band of film makers.

And as things begin to spiral completely out of control we watch as this plan goes completely to pot. At the end of the day we really don’t know whether or not we are watching Johnson’s film or watching the real thing. We are watching a very poor black and white film and a bad projection method (old tube TV) which may or may not be real. The only real evidence that we have that it was the film that was used, and not the real thing, was the fact that they came up the phrase, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But who’s to say that they just didn’t originate the phrase that was given to Neil Armstrong to use on the planet surface?

Inside Out Thinking

I would be willing to bet that Lunar Denialists will be making a hay day out of this movie. SEE! This is how it happened. But really what I love about this movie is that Johnson and his team really did punk NASA into letting them shoot their film on NASA facilities and actually pulled this feat off. That they made a movie that took a myth, and built a what if around it? Brilliant. They crafted a plausible story that could have made this story a reality. And then they interwove the footage of the day with their own footage and made some magic happen. It was such a complex story to make a reality that I’m even having a hard time understanding the differences between the truth and the fictions that we were given in this movie. Let me see if I can plot it here:

  1. A real movie team headed by Johnson wants to make a movie about our not going to the moon.
  2. This team poses as a team making a documentary and goes to NASA to film
  3. Fictional Johnson and team are actually actors in a faked movie acting like they CIA agents
  4. This CIA agent’s team acts like they are documentary makers filming about the moon landing
  5. All so that they can actually make a fake moon landing film with Kubrick’s help to say America successfully landed on the moon.

Are there more tentacles here that I am missing? Because my head just exploded. Regardless, I loved this movie. And am glad that I finally got my hands on it. But I’ll even do you one better than the inside out thinking with my mole theories… or watch me try anyway! One of the big questions still outstanding in my mind has been… who was the mole in this movie?

Operation Avalanche – Just Some Random Guy Theory

This theory states, that as the movie purported, there was a leak, a mole, but we never saw any indication of the mole… there was no time in the movie that gave us more information about the mole in any way shape or form. So I guess this theory is just the plane jane – it is what it is theory. There was a leak in NASA and he was doing dead drops with a Russian handler to inform them of the American’s inability to fulfill Kennedy’s plan to land on the moon. Ok. Got it. My big question here would be – you would think that with a movie wherein a leak is so important, we would at least accidentally interact with that mole somehow or some way. But that wasn’t the point of the movie – the point was the movie that was created of the moon landing. Got it.

Operation Avalanche – No Moles At All Theory

Alright, so here’s where we leave the reservation a little bit. In this theory the motivation here is all about Johnson. It begins and ends with Johnson. Now, instead of actually there being a mole that was releasing information to the Russians, Johnson is just saying that there was information being leaked out to the Russians. It’s just a threat of information. Mis-information information if you will. Johnson was lying when he said that the Russians were completely aware of our lunar capabilities (or more appropriately, incapabilities) in order to get his chance to participate in Operation Zipper (and even Avalanche). So basically Johnson was just using fear to manipulate his way into the operation. Lying to get his chance. And if we know anything at all about Johnson… is that he was an opportunist and he was willing to do anything to get his chance (even creating an entire operation himself.)

Operation Avalanche – Owen Was The Mole

What if Owen had been the mole all along. Just coincidentally? And then as Johnson and team got closer and closer to creating the movie Owen goes mentally berzerk. Think about it. He was leaking information to the Russians. Then he joins a team in order to fake the landings. He has a newborn. A new family. And all of this becomes just too much to deal with. And ultimately, it causes Owen to commit suicide by hanging himself in his garage. Don’t buy the suicide? Fine. Or, maybe, the reason the kill team hangs Owen and allows Johnson to go, is because Owen is a spy for the Russians and Director Brackett has it figured out? Hrmm.

Operation Avalanche – Johnson Was the Mole

Possibly the simplest (yet mind blowing) explanation for the entire “mole” problem was that Johnson was the mole. That Johnson  was single handedly  communicating everything he could to the Russians. His reasons for doing so could have been your standard, I want money, and fame reasons. But a better one as to why Johnson could have been the mole was so that the Russians would be getting information, that would be circling back to the Americans, which Johnson could then use to advance his own agenda… his on crazy bat$%&# idea, to record a movie of the Americans landing on the moon. It wouldn’t have started out as that, but Johnson is clearly an opportunist and is always looking for a way to turn the tide in his favor. And having the Russians gaining information clearly helped him throughout the movie. Yes? Does that make sense? Johnson was the mole, but simply so that he could create fear in order to “investigate” and get involved with Zipper, and then later with Avalanche.

Operation Avalanche Final Thoughts

The reason I adored the movie Mulan Rouge is simple enough. It was a movie, about a man and a woman trying to overcome obstacles to fall in love… in which they write a play about their overcoming the world’s obstacles to fall in love. It works on both levels. And as the play comments on their love, the world is commenting simultaneously. It’s also why I loved the movie Complete Clouds of Sils Maria. It is a movie about a play and a rehearsal for said play. Both comment on the other. It allows a conversation about the thing without commenting on the thing… while commenting on the thing. Operation Avalanche is the same way. It discusses monkey in the room about the Lunar Denialists, but doesn’t discuss the denialists. At uses the idea of a fake movie and allows us to discuss this idea in the craziest way possible, but watching autobiographists wiggle their way into NASA and make this movie. I also enjoyed that it was hard to wrap my brain around what it is exactly that it took to make this movie. So kudos to the guys that made this thing a reality! I loved this movie. What did you think about it?