"Tetris" stars Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Nikita Yefremov, Roger Allam, Anthony Boyle, Togo Igawa, Ken Yamamura, Ben Miles, Matthew Marsh, and Rick Yune. Released on Apple TV+ on March 31, 2023, the film has an entrepreneur attempting to secure the rights to "Tetris" from the Soviet Union.
The film was directed by Jon S. Baird, who also directed "Cass", "Filth", and "Stan & Ollie". We all have that one video game that's so addicting that we can't take our eyes off it, let alone put it down. Nowadays, we have competitive online games and even RPGs that last for hours. But back then, we have one that involves combining falling blocks, which isn't as dull as it sounds. "Tetris" is an 8-bit gaming sensation that plenty of people are going nuts for with its simple yet addictive gameplay and catchy tune. While I haven't played the game myself, I can see the ever-lasting appeal from its straightforward concept. But, of course, every game has to have an origin story, with "Tetris" being one of them. This brings us to the latest original film from Apple TV+, which depicts the unbelievable legal battle to secure the game's property rights. Was it as addictive as the game itself? Let's find out.
The story is set in the late 1980s during the Cold War. It follows Henk Rogers (Egerton), a Dutch-American entrepreneur seeking to gain rights for video games to bring to consoles and handhelds. While attending a trade show in Las Vegas, he discovers a tile-matching puzzle game called "Tetris", created by Alexey Pajitnov (Yefremov), a game designer from Russia. Seeing the game's potential, Henk attempts to secure its rights with the help of Nintendo and have it shipped with the Game Boy. His journey leads him to the USSR, where he tries to convince a government-owned company to hand him the rights to "Tetris". But, of course, the company couldn't give up the rights that easily, resulting in Henk pulling all the stops to get them while being threatened by the KGB.
Many movies based on video games usually adapt the source materials through their narratives and gameplay mechanics and flesh them out with their cinematic aspects. Some, like "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Detective Pikachu", succeed in bringing the games to life, while others make us want to play them instead. So it boggles everyone's minds that Hollywood decided to bring a simple game like "Tetris" to the screen. We initially thought they were making a cinematic version of the game, which has no substance to accompany its block-matching gameplay. But that's not the case. Instead of creating a cinematic story set in the world of "Tetris", Hollywood decided to bring the actual events surrounding the game's licensing to life as a business-themed thriller. To be honest, that does sound more interesting than a film adaptation of the game.
In addition to not playing "Tetris", I was unaware of the events that unfold until I watched the film myself. Understandably, getting the rights to a video game is complicated, but trying to do it when involved in the Cold War with the USSR? That's not just complicated. That's a new level of crazy. Whether some of these actions were true or fictional, I have to admire Rogers' perseverance in accomplishing the impossible despite Russia's grudge against America. But the real question is whether the film can capture the insanity and tension of one entrepreneur's unfeasible quest for gaming glory. Well, I can tell you this: it caught my attention like how "Tetris" captured everyone else's. Of course, it's far from perfect, but like how the players match the game's blocks one by one, it kept the momentum going through its eye-catching tension and narrative tricks.
Regarding Jon S. Baird's filmography, the only movie I remember watching from the filmmaker was 2018's "Stan & Ollie", depicting the comedy duo's later years. It was an intriguing fact-based drama that featured solid performances from Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. "Tetris" showcases that Baird's no stranger to biographical movies based on historical events thanks to his work on "Stan & Ollie". With his keen eye for direction, Baird offered a well-paced, clean, and suitably engaging series of events depicting a man encountering deception and corruption in the video game business world. Noah Pink's screenplay was also serviceable in reflecting this complex process while providing a traditional narrative that balances well with its thriller aspects. But, of course, it's pretty easy for specific people to lose track of the characters' business conversations if they're not paying attention. Fortunately, with its pacing, tone, and compelling cast, the complexity is not enough to make me want to put it down right away.
"Tetris" stands apart from the other standard biopics due to its presentation. The movie depicts Rogers's intense journey through its 8-bit visuals and sound mixing, mainly for the transitions, the locations, the references, and the car chase sequence in the finale. It's like watching the filmmakers play a classic NES game they created. Its old-school game presentation helps provide a refreshingly pleasing take on the conventional genre, even though other films with similar styles did it better, primarily "Scott Pilgrim". The visuals for the 8-bit segments were decent, especially for the car chase scene, and the sound mixing was top-notch. Additionally, the score by Lorne Balfe was impressive in combining its original music with the classic "Tetris" theme.
The cast also did very well with their performances, offering enough charisma to make the business talk seem less boring. Taron Egerton has done great work over the years, especially with the "Kingsman" movies and his career-best performance in "Rocketman". Unsurprisingly, his performance in "Tetris" is no exception, as he injected a magnetic and consistently charming essence into his role as Henk Rogers. Sure, he got plenty of criticism for whitewashing Rogers, who's of partial Indonesian descent, but his talent is too big for me to care. Nikita Efremov also did solid work as Alexey Pajitnov, and Toby Jones was decent as Robert Stein. Anthony Boyle and Roger Allam were suitable in portraying the Maxwell father/son duo who are also pursuing the rights for "Tetris".
Overall, "Tetris" is an addicting and thrilling biopic that's almost as unbelievable as the events it depicts. It doesn't reach a high score in its traditional narrative and genre elements. Regardless, it is a well-directed and entertaining biopic packed with intrigue, visual flair, and talent. From its great cast to the refreshing presentation, the film is similar to the game itself. Once you start watching, you won't be able to turn it off until the end. So if you're familiar with "Tetris" and in the mood for an engaging and absurd fact-based experience, this film is worth checking out on Apple TV+.
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