Tetris movie: why the story of the game’s origins is legendary
  • Release Date: – 31/02/2023
  • Platform: – Apple TV +
  • Cast: – Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Toby Jones, Ayane Nagabuchi
  • Director: – Jon S. Baird

From the moment I saw the trailer for Tetris, I was confident that it would be a good film but I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. There are a few films that I watch once and then immediately re-watch. Tetris was one of those and it was so for a plethora of reasons. It was not just about the old-world charm that the film brought to its visuals and its cinematic sensibility, it was also because of how wonderfully Jon S. Baird took a seemingly complicated and dry story of American corporate dealing with a paranoid Russia and presented it in the most entertaining, engrossing and flamboyant manner possible.

It is also a fact that few from my generation haven’t played some version of Tetris. For someone like that to finally get to see the genesis of the game albeit, with some noticeable cinematic liberties taken, it was in many ways wish-fulfilment of the highest order. The biggest bonus was the fact that I never even realized that I wanted to know this story and yet now that I know it, I think to myself why I hadn’t thought and asked for this story before.  

Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) learns of the existence of Tetris while selling his own game at an Expo and immediately realizes that this was the game that was going to change the world of gaming forever and impact more individuals than the bubonic plague did albeit in a good way. What he didn’t realize at this juncture was how difficult it would be to possess the rights to a game that many other game manufacturers and marketers already realized the potential of.

Not to mention, the country of its origin and its maniacal ruling powers. Frustrated at not having enough of the game to take it to the levels that he wanted to, Rogers sets out for Russia to meet the game’s creator and manufacturing company with the hopes of landing a sizeable deal.

As he lands in Russia, he has to not only contend with a country of people who consider him and the USA their biggest enemy but also a plethora of different factors like a fast-crumbling USSR, corrupt politicians, challenge of communication and his US rivals who are willing to go to any lengths to possess Tetris. What happens next is what the film is all about.

I was constantly riveted by Tetris and there wasn’t a single second in the runtime that didn’t contribute to forwarding the plot. The film attains its momentum within the first few minutes of its runtime and then runs with the same velocity for the rest of the narrative.

There are a lot of different things happening all around but they all make sense when they are considered as parts of a greater whole. For a while, I felt that the story would unfold primarily in the US and Tokyo with the characters fighting it out in their respective turfs but the plot escalated so quickly that I was taken aback.

In Russia, the story unfolds at a similarly breakneck pace and even then, it remains perfectly intelligible. The stakes of each of the characters are clearly defined and they remain rooted in realism for atleast two-thirds of the film.

The challenges that Henk Rogers’ character is shown facing feel real and it constantly gives you a feeling of him being in danger and that greatly elevates the overall thrill and drama of the film. If I hadn’t googled Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov (the creator of Tetris), I would have never known how their story ended. That would in turn make the film even more exciting and satisfying.

Unfortunately, and out of curiosity, I did google the people and that spoiled the ending for me. Thankfully, the “how” of the film was so well envisioned and executed with such breathless urgency that I still had a great time with how the story culminated.

Speaking of the sense of urgency, it is something that is ensured by the performances from the ensemble cast who are clearly doing a far better job than what is expected of people acting in a made-for OTT film. Taron Egerton is someone who always gives in his 100% and he is no different here. He looks and behaves like someone whose everything is at stake and it leaves a telling impact on you. His outbursts and frustrations look so genuine and are aided by such good writing that it immediately envelops you in its magic.

As the film progresses, Henk’s character faces tougher challenges that finally culminate in him escaping a near-death situation that I am confident didn’t happen in real life. This sequence, no matter how outrageous, still felt apt and impactful as the entire narrative of the film was gradually building up to something as insane as this.

Nikita Efremov as the creator of the game, Alexey Pajitnov hits the right notes with his performance. He is shown as someone who has been on the receiving end of the brutalities of the communist regime and is weary of it.

However, he is evidently a free soul and enjoys doing things that are out of the box. He is evidently possessive of his creation and would definitely want to share in the spoils of the riches that it earns.

But the circumstances don’t allow him. All that changes after Henk Rogers arrives and Nikita Efremov expertly expresses the character’s changing psyche and positivity through his nuanced rendition of the character that is complete with bursts of rebellious actions that feel uncharacteristic but heartfelt.

Roger Allam, Anthony Boyle and Tobey Jones are sufficiently hateful as the three primary bag guys in the film. They are so effective that in the end, all I wanted was for them to suffer as much as possible. They are hateful and annoying in everything that they do and their repulsive and pompous gait is insufferable. For actors to extract such unbridled hate from the audiences is no mean feat and for that, they deserve every bit of the praise that they are receiving.

Tetris is a beautiful-looking film. The visuals of the film feel so plush and rich that I was in love with every frame of it. Be it the rendition of Japan, Seattle or Moscow, it looks and feels authentic and disarmingly beautiful. I am confident that it must not have been shot at real locations but the cinematographer and the art department worked in perfect synergy to create worlds and periods that not only looked breathtakingly beautiful in their simplicity but also realistic and felt like they belonged to the period that the film was set in.

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The direction of the film is astounding. Jon S. Baird understands the nature of the story, the setting that his story is set in and also how best to unfold his narrative like a whirlwind adventure. His pacing is immaculate. His direction of the actors and how they are supposed to approach the characters is fantastic. His editing choices are on the money. You can find innumerable conscious directing choices throughout the film that make it entertaining, special and intriguing. These choices also ensure that the story is told not in the best way possible but also has enough in it for the audiences to keep returning to it to enjoy specific portions of it.      

Tetris is a high-octane adventure that gallops as if it was competing in the 100-meter sprint at the Olympics. The film is nearly 2 hours long and still feels like a 90-minute-long film. Every minute of that runtime is thoroughly entertaining and devilishly captivating. More than anything, you will come out of this film not only entertained but with a clear idea of how Tetris came to be the phenomenon that it still continues to be and also about the men who made it possible. For all this and more, this film is a must-watch.

Rating: – 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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