When it comes to video games nowadays, gamers are spoiled for choice in what they can play, and the games are usually visually gorgeous. Let’s go back a few decades to Tetris, a revolution in its day. Although it may not look like it, it was highly addictive, like a drug. Jon S. Baird’s film highlights its rise from humble beginnings in Soviet Russia.
On paper, how a simple video game from behind the Iron Curtain could make intriguing viewing may seem surprising. Usually, video game film adaptations are based around the game itself, but Tetris is different. It’s all about the negotiations and how capitalism won in Cold War Russia, and how this highly influential game made it to the rest of the world.
The 1980s were a big game changer when it came to popular culture. Some may argue that the likes of the 1960s and 1970s also made an impact, and they would be correct. There was something about the decade that gave it an extra edge. Maybe I’m biased as I was a kid who grew up in the decade, but we discovered so much that we take for granted nowadays – both good and bad – such as MTV, Thatcherism, Reaganomics, Indiana Jones, Thundercats, action figures, big hair, and mullets. Of course, video gaming also evolved, giving our game in question its stepping stone to the wider world.
Taron Egerton shines as Henk Rogers, the Dutch-American businessman and developer who could see the game’s potential. For Henk, it wasn’t all plain sailing; if anything, he was failing in game design. When we meet Henk, he’s at a game trade show attempting to sell his own game. When he searches for his marketing assistant, she’s playing a rival stand’s game, convincing Henk to try the game. He does, and that game is ‘Tetris‘, which convinces the salesman to sell him the Japanese rights to the game.
Rogers heads back to Tokyo, Japan, where he lives with his wife Akemi (Ayane Nagabuchi) and daughter Maya (Kanon Narumi) to share the news with them. What first looks like a great purchase is starting to look like a nightmare when various parties claim they have the rights. Henk wants all international rights and every format, from handheld video game to arcade game version. That won’t be an easy task as he has competition from Mirrorsoft, run by soon-to-be-disgraced business mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his heartless son Kevin (Anthony Boyle). Henk decides to go right to the source, the game’s creator Alexey Pazhitnov (Nikita Efremov), who lives in Moscow. This is 1988 Russia, and what Alexey owns, the government owns, pushing Henk into a cat-and-mouse chase for the rights. He does have Nintendo on his side, and their soon-to-be-launched Gameboy is the perfect platform to launch Tetris.
It’s astonishing to think that a small program you created would become a phenomenal game worldwide. You could say it’s a stark reminder to never underestimate what you create; it could be your golden ticket. You can see that Alexey was unaware of his game’s full potential until Rogers and Mirrorsoft came calling. The might of the Russian iron fist put fear in anyone, and Alexey was willing to forget about his creation. Henk, on the other hand, saw his winning ticket but was unaware of how much danger he was in and what it was doing to both Alexey and his own family.
Tetris never settles for one genre; it’s a drama, a comedy, and a cold war espionage thriller, which makes Jon S. Baird’s film highly entertaining. Amidst the politics and chaos of the movie, this is a story about living the dream and friendship. While a biopic about Henk Rogers could be tempting, that would be unfair to Alexey Pazhitnov, who is the game designer. The film also depicts the red tape and corruption involved when money comes into play, especially from the Murdochs.
The film also captures the pop culture and nostalgia of 8-bit graphics, which might be hard for some to believe were once top-of-the-range. Each chapter of the film features one of these graphics, even when the characters globe-trot around the world. There’s even a car chase scene that uses the graphics in the same way that classic Batman used ‘Capow!’.
While Noah Pink’s script might get a little too heavy on politics in the middle, he captures the high-stakes tensions of the negotiations and the fear of living in Soviet Russia and speaking one’s mind. The situations get so absurd that you can almost hear the Benny Hill music in the background. Amidst all that madness, no one realizes that they don’t actually own the full or any rights to the matter.
Many may wonder how much of the film was actually true, but Tetris runs fairly true to the story with a little Hollywood interpretation to spice things up. There are superb performances all around from the cast, especially Egerton, who has shown his maturity as a lead actor and carries Tetris really well. This may not be the film you are expecting, so sit back and let the blocks fall into place in this thrilling and highly entertaining ride.
Biography, Drama | UK, 2023 | 15 | 31st March 2023 | Apple TV+ | Dir.Jon S.Baird | Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Roger Allam, Toby Jones, Ayane Nagabuchi, Anthony Boyle,