Tetris Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This inaccurate story, behind how Nintendo obtained the rights to distribute the most successful game in video game history, is imperfectly entertaining.
Genre: Biography / Drama / Historical / Thriller
Director: Jon S. Baird
Cast: Taron Egerton, Ayane Nagabuchi, Nikita Efremov, Anthony Boyle, Ken Yamamura, Ben Miles, Igor Grabuzov, Roger Allam, Ieva Andrejevaite & Toby Jones.
Run Time: 118 min.
US Release: 31 March 2023 (Apple TV+)
UK Release: 31 March 2023 (Apple TV+)
German Release: 31 March 2023 (Apple TV+)
In a world, where video game adaptations have become pretty much a daily routine, the news of a Tetris film for Apple TV+ scared the living hell out of me, as I didn’t know what to expect! To be honest, I never saw a trailer, which is why this release had been on my watchlist for a good while before I finally mustered the courage to watch it. To my surprise, it turned out to be a fun, business-spy hybrid thriller, telling the story of how the most popular game, found an international audience. So, put down your tetrominoes and embark with me on my review for Tetris…
In 1988, Henk Rogers of Bullet-Proof Software becomes enamoured with the game Tetris, while marketing his own unsuccessful video game at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Finding himself entangled in a bidding war with other media tycoons and higher-ups of the Russian Communist Party, Rogers joins forces with the game’s inventor Alexey Pajitnov, risking it all to bring Tetris to the masses!
A planned production on the history of the video game, including its legal battles over ownership during the Cold War, was planned as far back as 2020. Noah Pink penned the script, with the tone set to mirror The Social Network. Apple TV+ acquired the distribution rights in November 2020, with filming beginning in December 2020.
As with many, Tetris has been a big part of my childhood. I watched my father play it for hours on our old PC with Windows 3.1. I later obtained the GameBoy cartridge, spending days moving the little blocks of four around. As such, I thought that the fascination for the game was well captured! The business side’s point of view, which shows Henk Rogers, together with Nintendo as the heroes and the Maxwells from Mirrorsoft as the villains, was intriguing. On top of that, it showcased the difficult relationship with the USSR government.
The accuracy of actual events can be disputed, as the real Rogers and Pajitnov explained that while serving as advisors, they quickly realised that it wasn’t about accuracy but entertainment. As such, a lot of liberties were taken, like the over-dramatic darkness in Russia, or a car chase that did not take place in reality. Thus, taking the plot with a grain of salt is important. Having said that, it is fun, light-hearted entertainment that combines historical facts with spy-esque fantasies.
The biggest issue is within the screenplay’s structure, which speeds through the introduction of Henk, his passion for Tetris, the creation of the video game, as well as Alexey Pajitnov as a person. The first twenty-five minutes are simple set-up, rushing through at such a high speed that once it reaches the main story arc in Russia, the change in pacing is so brutal that it feels like a complete stop. It also is generic in portraying opposing factions as villainous, just like in the creation of the climax.
Voiceovers are used to narrate the introductory segment of the flick. Conversations are simplified, especially the business aspect of those events, to keep the audience in the loop. Joking dialogues are included, to create humorous occurrences.
Taron Egerton portrays Dutch-American video game designer Henk Rogers. The casting of Egerton as Rogers created controversy as the entrepreneur has Indonesian ancestry, however, Egerton does give a vivacious rendition of the person, which seems to reflect the real person’s joyful personality. Unfortunately, his relationship with his own family is not fleshed out enough, to make a comprehensible point as to why the production of the video game is important for their livelihoods.
Contrary to that, his growing friendship with Alexey Pajitnov, represented here by actor Nikita Efremov, is something that the narrative takes time at exploring throughout the second act. Alexey has an equal passion for computer games as Henk, which helps viewers understand why these two form a brotherly bond. The chemistry between Efremov and Egerton is good, helping sell their friendship. Just like with Rogers, Pajitnov’s family doesn’t get enough screen time for us to care enough about possible outcomes.
Then we have Anthony Boyle as Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Mirrorsoft Roger Allem as Kevin Maxwell & Robert Maxell, a generic written corporate villain for cinema. His father, owner of Mirrorsoft, is portrayed rather cartoonish by Roger Allam. Finally, there is Tobey Jones in the limited role of Robert Stein, a negotiator for gaming rights distribution.
Different agents of the USSR are included to represent the threat of the former government in its final years. Sadly, these personas are so over-dramatised that it becomes hard to take them seriously.
The cinematography is competent, making use of montages, dramatic angles plus solid focus and composition. It is effective in building suspense, during segments taking place in 80s Russia, though can also come off as clichéd. The lighting is not too overly bright nor too dark, making use of neon-themed motives at times. The colour palette includes different tints of beiges or browns, as well as blacks or greys for the baddies.
It uses classic 8-bit pixelated artwork as a chapter division, plus transitions. This adds to the nostalgia factor, suiting the element of the movie well. That said, the intensity of the car chase has been compromised by pixelating cars when they crash or scrape through narrow passageways. The costume design, just like hair and makeup, does fit the epoch it plays in.
Lorne Balf composed the soundtrack for the motion picture, using melodic influences of the eighties era. Remixes of popular songs, such as “Holding Out for a Hero” or “Heart of Glass”, are also implemented.
Verdict: While I never explored this arc of Tetris’ history, I need to confess that I am surprised that it took so long for an adaptation to be released! Technically this is well handled; the camera work makes good use of light and shadows, the brown plus beige colours represent that decade well, the costume design suits the eighties aesthetics, yet most important are the fun, 8-bit artwork transitions, which underline the plot. The screenplay is probably the weakest part, adding much to the pacing issues, as well as following through with outdated clichés. The family ties of both leads are not represented well enough, to clarify the stakes taken by these men. That said, the spy-like aspect and humour created an enjoyable premise. Egerton gives a great rendition of the passionate Henk Rogers, having good chemistry with Nikita Efremov, who plays Alexey Pajitnov. Tetris might not be perfect, but it is lighthearted entertainment that should be taken with a big pinch of salt when it comes to accuracy. It deserves a 7.0 out of 10.
Have you seen Tetris yet? If interested, it is available on Apple TV+. Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below & if you like the content, subscribe! Thank you for reading.