Where to stream it? Apple TV+
Starring: Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, Anthony Boyle, Toby Jones, Roger Allam
Written by: Noah Pink
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
This movie was screened in advance at its premiere at SXSW.
Intro: Tetris Movie Review
There was a bit of an odd movie trend showcased at this year’s SXSW: consumer product origin stories. We had movies about the creation of Air Jordans, the Blackberry smartphone, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, to name a few.
I’m not sure what stage of capitalism this means we’ve reached but I approached each screening of a movie about the guy who invented (fill in the blank) with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Going into Tetris, I expected this to mostly cover the creation of the video game juggernaut. What I got instead was something much bigger.
Tetris is a Cold-War era political thriller that uses the humor of its fish-out-of-water story to create a compelling narrative that appeals to video game nerds and non-fans alike.
When we first meet the central character of our story, Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), he’s an American living in Japan as the owner of a struggling software company. He needs a successful game to support his wife and daughter and after playing Tetris at an electronics expo he becomes convinced that it's exactly what will turn his fortunes around. There’s only one issue- he needs the rights and acquiring them is a bit complicated.
There's several others who all have varying degrees of legal entanglement with Tetris. They include slimy businessmen Robert Stein and Robert Maxwell (Toby Jones and Roger Allam, respectively) and his final boss, the Soviet Union.
The USSR seized the original rights to the computer game version of Tetris from its creator Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), fearing it interfered with worker productivity. They left a loophole, however: games for handheld systems. Henk must go to the Russians and negotiate the rights in-person so that he can release Tetris on Nintendo's upcoming Gameboy system.
In the process he ends up betting his entire home and risking his personal safety as he confronts dangerous forces in the USSR who consider his presence a threat. The plot zips in wild directions that involve the KGB, car chases, and people getting beat-up in dark alleys.
The film's production design has a fairly muted color palette, at least for its scenes that take place behind the Iron Curtain. This contrasts with a recurring visual motif of colorful 8-bit on-screen graphics. These are used during some of the exposition that breaks down the video game industry and also in “level” screens that chop up the movie into chapters.
While these graphics help add some visual flair to the movie, it begins to feel overused and gimmicky by its end. That being said, the cast led by Egerton does a fantastic job and the humor helps anchor a film what could otherwise be somewhat dry at times.
It's clear the movie takes its own artistic liberties, including with an almost cartoonish depiction of evil Russians. You're not in for a history lesson here. Rather it's a rollicking adventure about one man's journey to untangle the wild mess he finds himself in, forever changing pop culture history in the process.
Final Thoughts: Tetris Movie Review
Tetris was not a perfect film, and I did have some bones to pick with it here and there. All things considered, though, I had a good time and enjoyed hearing about the supposed background of a game I’ve spent many hours playing.
If you're an Apple TV+ subscriber, especially if you consider yourself among the millions of Tetris fans, this film is worth a stream.