Tetris is one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time. It not only influenced the games industry in a significant way but still remains one of the most played games among all ages. It’s a simple concept of matching pieces together to create lines endlessly, one that isn’t complex or streamlined enough for anyone to understand and play. So how does one make a movie about Tetris that is interesting and respects the legacy of the game itself? You focus on the story behind its creation of it.
Tetris isn’t some crazy sci-fi or over-exaggerated story involving falling blocks from the sky. The AppleTV+ movie, directed by Jon S. Baird, focuses on the man who helped make the deal to bring Tetris from the Soviet Union to the rest of the world, and more specifically the Nintendo Game Boy handheld system. Eventually, both he and Alexey Pajitnov go on to create the Tetris company after the successful release of the game around the world. But while the real story behind Tetris being packed in with the Game Boy is filled with back & fourth business meetings, the movie dramatizes many aspects of the story that went on during a tense time in American history.
The plot is set in 1988 and follows Henk Rogers, who finds Tetris being played during the Consumer Electronics Show. After seeing how great Tetris was to play, he sets off on a journey to obtain the publishing rights of the game for multiple platforms for his company and the well-being of his family living in Japan. But while things seem easy enough at first, Henk eventually finds out that the creation of Tetris and the rights to publish it outside of Soviet Russia are a lot more complicated and dangerous than he realized. It’s a thriller that sees the KGB, Nintendo, and the global video game market collide in unexpected ways.
What starts out as an innocent drama and biographical take on Tetris eventually takes a wild turn into becoming a spy thriller. There is a lot of meetings with top-brass from gaming companies of the time, but once the story goes to Russia everything changes tone. The movie almost takes on a serious tone of commentary on how communism was hurting Russia in the late 1980s, nearly abandoning the game of Tetris at times. However, the game itself acts as the central prize for nearly everyone involved, or more specifically the right to publish Tetris and make a profit off of it. The entire conflict between Henk and many of the individuals he comes across is based on lies about who really owns Tetris and the final say on how it can be used.
Most of the time, we’re following Henk throughout the story, but occasionally things switch over to the other side of the iron curtain. There’s a clear sign of who is bad and who is good, but there are shades of grey for some despite questionable motivations. It adds another layer to the story rather than making things feel shallow and making the Russian characters look stereotypically evil. However, things definitely feel more hostile in the Russia scenes, regardless of what’s happening. There are still enough instances for us to feel something for multiple characters on all sides of the struggle for Tetris.
Speaking of which, many of the important figures in the creation of Tetris are here. You have industry legends Howard Lincoln and Hiroshi Yamauchi appear in the film, who are big parts in the creation of the Game Boy and why Tetris was packed in with the handheld. There are also people relevant to the licensing battle that went on, including Kevin and Robert Maxwell from the UK, as well as the various Russian officials and businessmen at the company ELORG. Much of the story is dramatized for the sake of the story and some things are made up entirely. The liberties taken in some aspects do make for a more interesting film to watch, even if some of it is unbelievable.
A very interesting aspect of the movie is the pixel renditions and scene transitions that are littered throughout the story. They really play up the 8-bit video game theme to a fun effect, but never go overboard with it. You won’t find them during the more serious moments, but during exposition and changes in setting they are a nice touch. The music of the film also implements the Tetris main theme in clever and interesting ways, with multiple remixes and takes on the iconic theme. It shows not only a reverence for the game itself but the legacy it has built in the years since first being released to the world.
Tetris is a solid movie that respects its subject but isn’t afraid to stretch things a little bit for the sake of having an interesting story. It can be a well-made thriller most of the time, even though a lot of what it shows isn’t historically accurate. You might be nostalgic for Tetris or at least be familiar with the game to some degree, but you don’t need any of that to enjoy the better parts of this movie. It’s hard to sell a movie based on a simple game about making lines, but the Tetris movie takes a clever approach that ends up being successful for everyone. It might not make you want to start playing Tetris right away, but you’ll enjoy what the movie offers in one way or another.
Are you a fan of Tetris? Did you grow up playing the game on the Game Boy or another platform? Tell us about your thoughts on Tetris in the comments down below!
The history that this story is based on is dramatized in many ways. But the plot is an interesting watch that has a lot of things for people who are fans of the game and those who don’t. There are a few great style choices that keep in line with the video game theme in some spots, but it’s not held throughout the film. You may not care more for Tetris after seeing this, but you’ll still enjoy the movie.
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