Tetris Review

Tetris has been regarded as one of the biggest games of all time, yet the story behind its origins has just been widely discussed. The history behind the 8-bit classic game is finally getting a feature film adaptation titled Tetris for Apple TV+. Being marketed as more of a corporate thriller, Tetris has all the building blocks to tell a rags-to-riches story about how developers from the West tried their hardest to obtain the rights to a game from the Soviet Union during the last years of the Cold War. The film does exaggerate how the puzzle title ended up in the hands of millions of players worldwide by making some interesting creative liberties to the true story to make it an engaging film for the audience. Director Jon S. Baird has adapted the tale of Tetris with screenwriter Noah Pink to create a Hollywood-style thriller that delivers an enjoyable film led by the charismatic Taron Egerton.

Tetris follows struggling video game publisher Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) living in Tokyo whose life changes when he spots a business opportunity after playing a game involving a bunch of falling building blocks. His journey to bring this game to the masses propels him on a journey that takes him to different parts of the world before landing in Cold War-era Russia where he pulls every business move whether it’s legal or illegal to make sure Tetris becomes the successful game he believes it can be. Henk faces corrupt CEOs, the Russian government and the KGB to get to his goal while also getting to know a country he knows nothing about through the eyes of Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov), the man who invented the popular game. Henk risks everything including his career, family, and his life to make sure that Tetris becomes one of the biggest games to have ever existed.

Egerton nails it in his portrayal of Dutch-American businessman Henk in the film. His charisma and perseverance on screen helped create a fascinating character who can sell a story and make anyone want to make a deal with him. The movie digs deep into the relationships he makes with Nintendo, ELORG, and Alexey to deliver a cohesive story behind the origins of Tetris. He’s battling with the Maxwells from Mirrorsoft over the rights of Tetris as well as the Russians at ELORG. The film acts like a dramedy but also more like a fish-out-of-water story of a man in a foreign country trying to meet the man behind the game that he has obsessed over ever since he started playing it. It’s the story of how these two men ended up popularizing the game that everyone knows about. We know how the story ends, but the journey of getting there is what the film excels at. 

The method of storytelling that Tetris uses is also something that is one of the film’s other strengths. It utilizes colorful pixelated graphics to introduce each chapter like a level in a video game. Each level inches closer to the main goal to complete the game, which is how the film is framing it as. For a film about a video game, Tetris does a good job of presenting its audience with the knowledge of this medium by having it feel like one. It also helps in recognizing who the main players are in the movie when it’s shown this way like the people behind Mirrorsoft, Nintendo, and Bullet-Proof Software. The movie introduces the first time that worldwide rights to a game have been done whether it’s for PC, consoles, and even handheld during its infancy. It feels very much like the 80s, which is when this takes place so the film captures that period well. Even the soundtrack sounds very much like the 80s and it helps elevate the story to make audiences feel that nostalgia of those times.

What the film tells about the history of Tetris can be somewhat exaggerated, which is where some parts of the film can take certain liberties to create something interesting and engaging to the audience. There is a car chase scene which is perhaps the only action sequence that is in the movie that can be asking for a bit too much for anyone watching the film. It does feel a bit out of place for a movie showing the business side of the video game industry. It frames the chase like a video game with top-down pixelated graphics, but it can take audiences out of the film at times. The film also tends to go towards the spy thriller side even though it takes place during the Cold War era. Director Baird is going through different genres to tell the story, but the tone can be unbalanced when handling history which has the utmost importance when it comes to the video game industry as a whole.

Tetris is an engaging biopic that feels enthralling thanks to the way the story is told and the incredible performance by Egerton with his enthusiastic take on a savvy video game designer and businessman taking on the serious stern of the Soviet Union. It plays with how greed can bring out the best and worst in people, even in dire situations. The film tries to make the history of one of the greatest games ever into a cinematic experience that mostly works. Even though not all the blocks fit well, it does come back together rather nicely in the end.

Tetris is now available to stream on Apple TV+. 

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