Under the Radar

'Operation Avalanche': How NASA Faked the Moon Landing

1967: The CIA believes there's a mole at NASA who's leaking details of the Soviet Union. They send in a couple of young agents, posing as a public television documentary crew, to expose the traitor. Except, on arrival in Houston, the agents learn that there's no way the USA can land on the moon before JFK's 1969 deadline. Faced with a stark reality of a massive Soviet propaganda win, the agents come up with a foolproof way to fake the moon landing.

That's the premise of Operation Avalanche (out now on DVD and Digital HD), a new film from actor/writer/director Matt Johnson. It's shot to look like a 16mm documentary and it seamlessly mixes recreated footage with original newsreels and audio.

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Johnson and Owen Williams star as "Matt Johnson" and "Owen Williams," the two young agents looking to get ahead. Johnson managed to convince NASA that he was making a student film (technically, he was: Operation Avalanche turned out to be his masters thesis) and he snuck a camera onto the lot at Shepperton Studios in England to use in scenes where the young agents visit Stanley Kubrick on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey to learn his special effects techniques to use in their own fake movie.

There's some action and suspense and an alarming backup plan if the movie scheme falls through. True believers and Alex Jones listeners won't appreciate the slightly absurd tone to the movie: if you really believe the United States government faked the moon program and that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins played along with the lie, then you won't like Matt Johnson.

Others may have to forgive his Canadian accent. Johnson makes a good run at playing an American Ivy League CIA recruit but his "about" gives him away every time.

The DVD comes with a load of entertaining featurettes, deleted scenes and a fascinating commentary from the cinematographers and post-production team about how they made their movie look so authentic.

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