When the Tetris movie was first announced I had visions of Pixels, the 2015 movie starring Adam Sandler, and I couldn’t help but imagine it being some kind of cheesy sci-fi action movie with Tetris blocks falling from the sky. Thankfully, we have Taron Egerton instead, in an entertaining, if not somewhat convoluted at times, story based on the true events surrounding the origins of Tetris and how it eventually left its Russian home and onto the screens of Nintendo Gameboy, before going on to become the global phenomenon that we now know and love.
Wonderful 8-bit graphics introduce us to our characters (referred to as players) and begin by declaring that we are on level 1, which is 1988. It’s a nice touch, and something that continues throughout the movie, even weaving its way into some of the live-action later on (but not on the grand, over the top scale that I initially feared!). Player 1 is Henk Rogers (Egerton), a Dutch-born video game publisher, raised in the US and now based in Japan where he also lives with his wife and young family. Henk is currently at a game convention in Las Vegas where he’s trying to promote one of his own games, but his lack of success in drawing any attention leads him to another stand where there appears to be far more attention, and a game called Tetris. Henk plays for a few minutes to see what all the fuss is about and, like everyone else in the nineties, is instantly hooked, determined to try and get in on what is sure to be a huge money maker.
The only issue, and the one that becomes even more complicated as the movie progresses, is involving the rights to the game. There are arcade rights, PC rights and video game console rights, not to mention different agreements for different parts of the world, with Henk and his team at Bullet-Proof Software only able to secure the rights to Japan. Not content with that, Henk uses it as a starting point to bluff his way into Nintendo Japan to try and get them on board with distributing the game. His persistence eventually leads him to a top-secret room in Nintendo USA where he is asked to sign an NDA before getting a peek at the prototype for a new type of console set to be released, called The Gameboy. After demonstrating to the development team behind Gameboy just how well Tetris plays on it, a new variation of game rights that hadn’t previously been considered suddenly comes into play – handheld rights. Rather than messing with third parties, Henk decides to head straight to the source of the game, Russia, in order to try and negotiate what he sees as being a very lucrative deal once the Gameboy is released.
This is where things get complicated. As well as Henk, there’s also sleazy Mirrorsoft owner Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his weaselly son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) who are interested and determined to secure the rights at any cost, along with the head of Andromeda (Toby Jones). All of these have some variation of the rights to Tetris for certain regions of the world. Or so they think. While in Russia, Henk tries to befriend Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), the creator of Tetris who created it for fun and expects to get nothing from its success, and Henk once again uses his persistence to gain access to the company responsible for granting the rights to the game, Elorg. It’s here that a lot of back and forth takes place, playing the interested parties off against each other. Letters of intent and various contracts are exchanged and it proves a struggle to keep track of who has what, or what they believe they have, while the ever-present KGB overshadows proceedings, increasingly concerned with all the Western interest in Tetris and even threatening both Henk and Alexey, along with their families.
Thankfully, all of this is talk and legal jargon is sprinkled with a contender for one of this years best soundtracks, not to mention the occasional 8-bit effects. Even a high speed car chase through Moscow turns crashing cars and crumbling building walls into digital blocks (while a brilliant Russian cover of “Holding Out For A Hero” plays). The movie is also helped by the inclusion of Taron Egerton, who carries the movie with charm as his character dashes between countries and deals. As an avid Gameboy player back in the day, I loved the story and the style in which it’s presented, even if it does stretch the ‘based on true events’ line a little.
Tetris will be available to stream on Apple TV+ from March 31st
Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.