When you hear the real-life story of how the game, "Tetris," became one of the most popular and well-known video games worldwide and of all-time, you might say to yourself, "Now that story would make a really good movie!"
Having now seen the "Tetris" movie (streaming on Apple TV+ beginning March 31st), I'm instead convinced that they should have left well enough alone.
It's an incredible story, but only a few ways to spin it (Tetris pun intended)...none of which end up being all that interesting enough to justify stretching it out into a feature-length film.
"Tetris" is one of the most well-known and most beloved video games of all-time (if you're like me, you can hear the Tetris music still playing rent-free in your head) at all times, but especially now). The game was created way back in 1984 by a Soviet software engineer by the name of Alexey Pajitnov, and it would hit big in America when it was packaged along with Nintendo's hand-held Game Boy unit in 1989. It's now the best-selling video game of all-time (across all platforms), with over 520 million copies sold.
And it's absolutely insane to consider that the game ever saw the light of day. In the film "Tetris," we get to see this so-crazy-it-must-be-true story unfold as a Cold War-era espionage thriller, which is sort of what was going on as multiple countries and companies battled for the licensing rights of this ground-breaking game.
Our main protagonist is game publisher, Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), who happens upon the game of Tetris at a trade show and falls head-over-heels for it. Through a bit of great fortune, he is invited behind closed doors at Nintendo where he is able to witness their next revolutionary investment: A hand-held video gaming device they're calling "Game Boy." Rogers sees Tetris as the perfect game to package together with the unit, but he doesn't have the licensing rights. No worries...how complicated could it be to get the licensing rights?
Oh man. Rogers gets caught up in a game of intrigue, lies and deception, and finds himself deep in the heart of Moscow where he befriends the game's creator, Alexey (Nikita Efremov). A tight-laced European businessman, Robert Stein (Toby Jones) and an uber-rich media mogul, Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) - and Maxwell's arrogant heir, Kevin (Anthony Boyle) - become involved in the scheming. There are back-room deals, lies and counter-offers, with scene-after-scene of men running from one room to another in their latest attempt to out-maneuver their competition. At the center, they are trying to sway a Russian government official, Nikolai Belikov (Oleg Stefan), who for some reason seems to soften to Rogers' relentless enthusiasm.
All of this is fun mythology...it connects at first to the nostalgia that we all feel when we think of the game Tetris. But this movie becomes less and less about the game, and more and more about these business meetings and shady dealings. Kudos to the filmmakers for making this story even remotely entertaining, but unlike the game in which it is based on, the "Tetris" film becomes repetitive and dare-I-say boring after a while.
I think this might have worked much more as a documentary, but as drama, "Tetris" just doesn't have the agility to overcome all obstacles placed in front of it. The most interesting parts of the movie decidedly become the opening, when we learn the premise, and the end, when we get to read the graphics that tell us what happened to each of these characters in real life.
The rug is pulled from underneath the film based purely on the fact that we all know how it ends, and that Rogers will eventually emerge victorious. Look, knowing how the story is going to end isn't a prerequisite for a good film (see "Titanic"). But the journey has to take us to places that feel fresh and new.
"Tetris" begins with all of the excitement and adrenaline that you could ask for, but it quickly dissipates once we have to watch one square after another begin to interact with one another, repetitively, ad nauseam.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History.
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes.
Starring: Taron Egerton, Mara Huf, Toby Jones, Oleg Stefan, Nikita Efremov, Anthony Boyle, Roger Allam.
Directed by Jon S. Baird ("Stan & Ollie," "Filth," "Cass").
"Tetris" is streaming on Apple TV+ on Friday, March 31st, 2023.
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