Released: 31st March
Seen: 22nd April

In 1985, back in the USSR, a man named Alexey Pajitnov was tasked with testing out a new piece of hardware to figure out what it was capable of. Of the many things he tried, one thing he did was make a game where a set of blocks fell from the sky in random shapes consisting of four squares and if you lined them up, those blocks would disappear. That game was called Tetris and for a game that is such a ubiquitous part of gaming, the story of how it ended up managing to be released outside the Soviet Union (that’s how long ago this was, Russia was still the Soviet Union at the time) is absolutely bonkers and told wonderfully in the movie Tetris… shame because I was hoping the Tetris movie would be an insane attempt to turn the actual game into a narrative but hey, a biopic works too.

Taking on a tone more akin to a spy movie, Tetris follows Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) who goes to an electronics conference where he sees a display for a new game called Tetris and promptly becomes enamored by it. Realizing that this game is so perfect that it’s basically a guaranteed success he tries to get hold of the rights to distribute it. Upon learning that the rights for (and this is an important set of terms) PC, console, and arcade releases of Tetris aren’t available, Henk gets the rights specifically for Japan and in the process learns about an upcoming Nintendo product called the Game Boy. 

This new development means he needs to get the specific rights for Handheld which are not currently available to anyone… oh also all the rights are actually being controlled by one guy who has lied to everyone, and those rights could be pulled by the Soviets at any time and meanwhile, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) stands to gain nothing because, in Soviet Russia, game plays you!… Yes, I made a Yakov Smirnoff joke in the third paragraph, STRAP IN!

To make a film about the deal between several major companies for the rights to Tetris, by all rights, should not be this exciting. Just the idea alone should make your eyes glaze over but to the film’s credit, it manages to find ways to make these negotiations more exciting. Small things like a creative use of establishing shots that look like 8 bit pixel graphics to a brisk energetic tone keeps things from getting dull, and then they keep ramping up the “Soviet spy” aspect of the story more and more as the film goes on until there’s car chases and dramatic airport confrontations. It almost tricks you by sounding theoretically dull and ending up as an insanely exciting thriller, which seems fitting for a movie about Tetris that should be dull but is actually insanely intense.

Tetris (2023) - Nikita Efremov, Taron Egerton
Tetris (2023) – Nikita Efremov, Taron Egerton

The intensity of Tetris is helped by an ability to make the technical jargon make sense, since a lot of the tension has to come from understanding what Henk is trying to get or what the Soviets are offering or what dastardly tricks Mirrorsoft is pulling behind everyone’s backs. It’s all well explained in context, though it does take a bit for everything to click (which is why my earlier explanation is severely lacking) it manages to make it so people who aren’t fully in the know about all these strange rights issues should be able to easily follow the core story at the heart of this exciting tale.

What helps is that all this is happening around the time of the Cold War, something the film pushes to the background where it’s a constant lingering threat that isn’t focused on but is on the minds of everyone. It makes the interactions with the Soviet government so much more intense, upping the danger level considerably since every meeting with the Soviets carries the implied possibility of ending with someone just vanishing (wild that the ‘scary Russian spy’ trope still works in 2023).

Sure there is obviously some stuff in this film that isn’t factual, things like car chases done for dramatic effect or certain lines clearly written to be knowing nods to the audience but none of those really hinder the film. They aren’t distracting, thanks to the tone that’s been laid out which makes them feel like they belong, it’s not just a random action scene for the sake of it but because it feels like it’s how this story would need to end. 

Tetris, much like the game, is a lot of fun, creatively presented and highly addictive. With a masterful cast delivering some great performances under the watch of a director who brings out the best in all departments, it’s honestly stunning how Tetris manages to be so insanely good considering it’s based on a bunch of negotiations for that dropping bricks game you can play on your phone right now. So much better than it has any right to be, Tetris is one of the biggest surprises that’s come out in a while.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.