I remember hearing a while back that a Tetris film was being made. I had visions of a The Emoji Movie thing, with the famed Tetris blocks being anthropomorphised and given ‘personalities’… really crap personalities. Voiced by second-rate celebrities and the film being a kid’s thing with loads of merchandise to sell that nobody wants.
What we got was something very, very different… thankfully.
I was already well-versed in the history of how Tetris came to be, I did a very abridged version for one of my books. The truth is that, the story behind Tetris is, quite honestly, really bloody fascinating and a far better basis for a film than a The Emoji Movie idea.
Tetris (the movie) tells the story of the continual battle to secure the rights to publish Tetris (the game). Yup, it does sound rather bland but trust me, the story of how Tetris (the game) was published is far from bland. We follow Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Dutch-born, raised in America and living in Japan, game designer and founder of Bullet-Proof Software, as he goes to hell and back to find the creator of Tetris and try to get a contract signed so that he can get exclusive publishing rights to the game. Set in 1988 and mainly in the Soviet Union. If you know anything about recent history and the whole dissolution of the Soviet Union, then you’ll know just how ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world that country was back then.
Along the way, Henk has to deal with KGB agents, blackmailing billionaire tycoons and more. Multiple people all want in on this Tetris game and are willing to do almost anything to stop Henk Rogers from signing on the dotted line.
Tetris (the movie) is really well presented and intercut with 8-bit animations (though if I can be nit-picky for a second, they do feel more 16-bit) and audio that introduces characters and scenes. Robert Stein (Toby Jones) is one of the main obstacles that Rogers needs to get around. For those not in the know, Stein was the man who first ‘discovered’ Tetris while in Eastern Europe and struck up a deal with the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov). But that deal was not quite what it seemed and when media magnate, Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) gets involved, things get very messy. That’s before we get into the Soviet Union government and everything else.
In several ways, Tetris is the video game movie equivalent of Rocky IV. You’ve got your Cold War backdrop, USA vs Russia and all that. Just swap boxing for gaming and boxing gloves for a NES pad. There are a few clichés, some changes from the real story to make things more dramatic and such. But overall, Tetris is a very entertaining film. Most of the ‘action’ revolves around meetings, boardrooms, pieces of paper and a lot of business negotiations. There’s a touch of melodrama with Henk Rogers’ family life, an over-the-top car chase (that didn’t happen in the real story) in the last third of the film and several other exaggerations.
Still, this is a film that does tell the rather interesting story of how Tetris (the game) became a worldwide phenomenon and all from such humble beginnings. Some great performances throughout, an awesome ’80s soundtrack and a snappy script make this 2-hour film fly by. This is certainly a far better film than the original idea for a Tetris film would’ve been.
I’d love to see more films and TV shows show the real stories behind how games were made. So much better than the kiddie films we keep getting based on video games. It’s a damn shame that the Masters of Doom TV show didn’t work out as that could’ve been amazing. If another one of these true stories of video games is ever made, may I suggest the making of Superman 64? Trust me, it’s a fantastic tale.
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