Tetris (2023) Review!!

Synopsis – The story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way to players around the globe. Businessman Henk Rogers and Tetris inventor Alexey Pajitnov join forces in the USSR, risking it all to bring Tetris to the masses.

My Take – With video games adaptions like Uncharted (2022), both the Sonic the Hedgehog films and HBO‘s The Last of Us finding immense success, it seems like literally every video game ever made is now up for grabs, hence I wasn’t surprised when Tetris‘ name started floating around.

Nearly 40 years after its creation, Tetris continues to command an imposing cachet as possibly the most iconic video game of all time. While video games have since evolved by leaps and bounds, Tetris has retained its fame as one of the most recognizable and addictive games in history.

However, this Apple TV+ release, directed by Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie) and written by Noah Pink (Genius), isn’t about colored blocks tumbling through the air as players frantically jigsaw them together, but instead takes a step back and tells the story behind the game. A tale about licensing a video game that never in a million years could I imagined would be so intense and complex, and keep me hooked from start to finish.

Based on a true story, the film works as Cold War–era thriller on steroids, with politics, corruption, double-crossing villains, unlikely heroes and a nail-biting race to the finish. With all its bombastic embellishments, some more successful than others, the film succeeds at keeping you in your seat with eyes wide open, and gets you heavily invested in the legacy of the block-stacking game. Without a doubt, the story of Tetris is one worth telling, and this interpretation is definitely worth watching.

The story follows Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Dutch-born Japan-based video game developer and salesman who while struggling to sell his own video game discovers the existence of Tetris at an expo and falls in love with its simplicity and addictiveness, quickly snapping up the rights to publish the game in the Japanese market.

Strongly believing he has a smash hit on his hands, Henk risks his business and home, much to the chagrin of his wife Akemi (Ayane Nagabuchi), all so that he can license the rights to Nintendo for a boatload.

However, when he travels to Moscow to acquire the handheld rights for them, Henk ends up encountering stiff resistance. Particularly deemed a cheat by the original company, the government office of ELORG, for not sharing the royalties of the game. Though he strongly makes his case, government official Valentin Trifonov (Igor Grabuzov) has other plans in mind.

A design to make sure sketchy business mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his son Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) of Mirrorsoft end up with the game, furthering a deal they’ve made with Robert Stein (Toby Jones) of Andromeda Software. All in exchange of a healthy bribe.

As Henk deals with all of this, he befriends Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), the game’s inventor, becoming more and more determined not just to win the rights and save his company, but to also get his friend the recognition he deserves.

From there on, the film quickly spirals into high-stakes, spy thriller territory as the key players attempt to negotiate the hostile environment that is 1980s Soviet Union and its bureaucracy, protocol, and corruption.

The game’s path – from its humble origins as a pet project, to its status as a timeless pop culture icon is fraught with complex business contracts and human miscommunication, the rise and fall of numerous companies, a clash of communist and capitalist ideals, and several parties all fighting to gain hold of the same thing.

Here, director Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink take everything they can get out of the history of the video-game, that too with style and personality, capturing the excitement and anticipation of bringing the game to the world.

They take several steps to up the ante to entertainingly ludicrous levels using some lavish artistic license to weave in subplots involving corrupt Soviet government officials, manipulative KGB spies, Henk and Pajitnov’s family lives, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

The other major tool that keeps the film fun is how director Baird works in elements from the game like animated pixel-art sequences, as well as adorn key sequences with retro game-inspired visual effect flourishes.

From the start, 8-bit animation is used to spice up the film’s aesthetic. Chapter titles introduce “players,” complete with 8-bit avatars of Henk, Alexey, and their friends and foes. Standard establishing shots of locations, like a convention center or Hank’s home, are substituted with 8-bit illustrations as a new chapter title card is introduced.

Elsewhere, the subtitles use a font that harkens back to the sharp lines of ’80s video games, while the music blaring in an underground club embraces the outrageousness of Western culture of the time and its sheer gusto.

Some of it works well as a storytelling device – the short, animated vignettes sometimes act as visual aids to help run through key players in the story, or help explain the difference between video games, computer games, and arcade games.

It also helps that the acting is top tier. With Taron Egerton obviously leading the charge with an incredible performance. He is seems to be having fun playing the leading man and it really shows. Egerton allows him to be funny, hard-headed, and quite lovable. He makes it easy to root for Henk to succeed in the end.

He is well supported by Nikita Efremov, Ayane Nagabuchi, Igor Grabuzov, Sofia Lebedeva, Roger Allam, Anthony Boyle, Ken Yamamura, Miles Barrow, Moyo Akande, Rick Yune and Toby Jones. On the whole, ‘Tetris’ is a surprisingly entertaining high-stakes roller coaster of a film that is just downright delightful throughout.

Directed –

Starring – Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Sofya Lebedeva

Rated – R

Run Time – 118 minutes

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