Tetris Synopsis: Henk Rogers discovers the video game Tetris in 1988, and then risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, to bring the cultural phenomenon to the masses.
A down-on-his-luck entrepreneur stumbles on a generation-defining video game, but he must secure the rights under the uncompromising reign of Soviet Union Russia in Tetris.
Formulating a deep dive into the so-wild-they-must-be-true circumstances of an addicting cultural staple boasts unique appeal. While most video game adaptions half-heartedly attempt to convey their source material’s charms (The Super Mario Bros. Movie comes to mind), Tetris observes the real-world tetrominoes pieced together during its complicated development.
In the hands of director John S. Baird and screenwriter Noah Pink, Tetris spins an amusing yet ephemeral tale in its Hollywoodization of real-world history. The film boasts busy energy and dynamic stylistic flourishes as an acceptable-enough substitute for a substantive story.
I do applaud Tetris for spinning an engaging yarn. Baird cultivates fast and furious momentum with his full-throttle pace, dishing out compelling factoids and enough personal steaks as Hank gets wrapped into a vortex of business complications. Perhaps his most distinctive flourish behind the camera comes in the form of 8-bit imagery, which serves as a fixture for scene transitions and dispensing information. Baird and his team craft these infusions as clever homages, adding a welcomed spark of style to the slick storytelling.
The web of corporate and government interests driving Tetris forward also compels. Pink’s screenplay deftly organizes the bevy of developments into a concise package. His narrative is at its best when focusing on Hank and Tetris game creator Alexey Pajitnov. Both stand as sleight and earnest figures amidst a battle between titans, fighting out of their respect for each other against an army of cynical parties looking for profits. Stars Taron Edgerton and Nikita Efremov successfully convey this dynamic with their charismatic performances, establishing a genuine rapport despite limited screen time together.
Tetris is a fascinating case study for this reason – many of the film’s strengths dual-wield as constraining limitations. Pink’s screenplay ultimately bites off more than it can chew, fixating on the admittedly fascinating narrative minutiae yet sadly leaving nuanced character development in the dust.
This approach hurts Alexey’s presence the most. It’s an odd decision to sideline the creative genius who invented the era-defining game in favor of the corporate bidding war that led to its popularity. Alexey is a tremendous symbol of perseverance, overcoming incredible hardships and the rigid grip of the Iron Curtain to create a once-and-a-lifetime artistic endeavor. Even though Egerton makes for a capable leading man, his role as eager businessman Hank ends up feeling like the wrong person to steer the plot forward (that’s not to mention the film’s bizarre whitewashing of Hank’s Indonesian descent).
Tetris is also far too smitten by modern biopic tendencies. Far too often, studios and creative teams create embellished truths to make a more entertaining product. When the film tries too hard to inject tense encounters and drum up artificial excitement, it resonates with insincerity compared to the story’s more personal roots. The movie engages when focusing on its real-world merits, so the need to placate with superficial inclusions sends the wrong message.
Tetris is a mixed bag brimming with joys and frustrations, but the movie still won me over with its serviceable telling of a marquee chapter in pop culture history.
Tetris is now playing on AppleTV+.
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