The Movie Waffler New Release Review - TETRIS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - TETRIS

Tetris review
The story of how the Soviet video game made it to the West.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jon S. Baird

Starring: Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, Anthony Boyle, Roger Allam Toby Jones

Tetris poster

When it was initially announced that a Tetris movie was forthcoming, most of us assumed it would be an animated comedy with multi-coloured and various shaped blocks voiced by the likes of Kevin Hart and Tina Fey. It was subsequently a surprise to learn the movie wouldn't attempt to adapt the game itself but rather detail the battle to acquire its distribution rights in the 1980s.

Just in case there's one person on the planet who isn't familiar with Tetris, it's a game developed in the Soviet Union in the mid-80s that involves falling bricks that must be matched when they reach the bottom of the screen to complete a row that then vanishes, allowing the player more time to rack up a high score. Despite its basic graphics and gameplay arriving at a time when video games were becoming more sophisticated, Tetris became a global sensation, becoming one of the biggest selling video games in history. You probably have some variation of the game on your phone today.

Tetris review

As director Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink's Tetris details, getting the game out from behind the Iron Curtain and to the rest of the world involved various corporate wranglings. At the centre of the story is Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Japanese-based Dutch-American software developer who discovers the game at the Las Vegas trade show CES. Learning that the rights for certain territories and platforms are still up for grabs, Rogers sets about attempting to acquire them.

This sees Rogers rub up against various shady figures including the soon to be disgraced publishing magnate Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle), and slippery software salesman Robert Stein (Toby Jones). Getting nowhere in the West, Rogers travels to Moscow, hoping to discuss business with ELORG, the Soviet body concerned with exporting software. There he is aided by a local interpretor, Sasha (Sofia Lebedeva), while befriending the game's creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov).

Tetris review

Baird and Pink strive to turn this corporate story into a Cold War thriller, with Rogers and his associates hounded by stereotypical mustache twirling KGB agents. It even climaxes with an over-the-top car chase as our western heroes race to the airport to leave the USSR before they're sent to a gulag. The score is by Lorne Balfe, of the Mission Impossible series, and incorporates the Tetris theme (a riff on the classic Russian folk song 'Katyusha') and various '80s hits reworked into an 8-bit synth bonanza. The manic score's energy is echoed by Egerton with a Michael J. Fox-esque performance that suggests he's playing Rogers as a secret coke addict. There are occasional cutaways to footage of '80s games, while establishing shots are rendered in the style of arcade classics like Rampage.

For all its stylistic quirks, Tetris finds itself too often stuck in the mud of boring corporate machinations. There's a middle section that sees Rogers pitted in a battle of wits against ELORG head Nikolai Belikov (Oleg Stefan) that drags on and on, suffering from an absence of the sort of sharp, witty writing this type of movie lives or dies by (come back Aaron Sorkin, all is forgiven). Somehow the filmmakers have stretched to nearly two hours a story that at best would probably fuel a 30 minute YouTube video essay. If you think a story about negotiating video game rights might want for drama and thrills, you're correct, and every time the Maxwells appear you'll probably find yourself wishing the film was about their well-noted skullduggery instead.

Tetris review

Tetris is guilty of some sloppy filmmaking. There are odd continuity issues, like how a bunch of Rogers' kids just seem to vanish halfway through the movie, as though the child actors suddenly became unavailable. Video game buffs have pointed out that many of the depictions of the game seen in cutaways don't reflect the actual game play. Some of the digital recreations of '80s Moscow (which, constantly drab and grey, seem based on a western propaganda depiction of the Soviet era rather than the more colourful reality) are particularly rough, especially during the aforementioned climactic chase through the city.

Props must be given to Tetris for casting actual Russian actors as Russian characters, rather than the usual Brits and Scandinavians with dodgy "I vill crush you" accents. With US-Russia relations returning to Cold War levels, it's probably not something we're going to see again for a while.

 is on Apple TV+ now.

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