Movie Review: TETRIS Starring Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Sofya Lebedeva
Let’s face it: video game-to-film adaptations don’t have the best track record. For every Sonic or Detective Pikachu, there are a half-dozen adaptations that are best left unremembered. Super Mario Bros., Battleship, every Uwe Boll movie ever made…the list goes on. Some recent TV series have given us hope (The Last of Us was absolutely phenomenal), but even then, series like Halo and The Witcher continue to make audiences leery.
When they announced a Tetris film, I think everyone had the same reaction:
It wasn’t an illogical reaction. After seeing how they adapted Battleship (the damn alien ships fired those little pegs from the board game!), it was reasonable to wonder how they’d make a game based on little geometric shapes falling down, let alone a series of movies (as was rumored). Don’t get me wrong; I love the game. Back in high school, I spent countless hours playing Tetris on my TI-83, either alone or linked up with someone else’s calculator as we tried to outduel each other. But I didn’t see how it’d translate to the big screen.
Thankfully, Tetris is not an adaptation of the game, but rather a look at how the game came to be published. It’s a fairly intriguing story that’s been spiced up a bit for entertainment purposes, but director Jon S. Baird manages to keep much of the actual story intact and make it into a reasonably thrilling movie.
The bulk of the film revolves around Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a software developer/programmer for Bullet-proof Software, who stumbles upon Tetris while trying to sell his own game at an electronics show. Although he only plays the game for a few minutes, he admits that he can’t get the game out of his head. Realizing that Tetris could take the world by storm, he seeks to obtain the publishing rights for the game in a journey that will take him behind the Iron Curtain at the tail end of the Cold War as he tries to negotiate with Nikolai Belikov (Oleg Stefan), the director of ELORG, the Soviet company through which essentially all things computer-related went through. Rogers discovers that Nintendo is on the verge of releasing a handheld system, the GameBoy, and he thinks it could be paired perfectly with the system.
Unfortunately for him, he’s not the only person or company trying to secure the distribution rights. Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam), the owner of Mirror Group, and his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) are also out to acquire the rights, and both groups seek the assistance of Robert Stein (Toby Jones), who had previously acquired the computer and arcade rights to Tetris (kind of…it’s explained in the film).
It’s a bit of cat and mouse, and it plays out well enough in the film, in a more entertaining fashion than trying to describe it in a review could do. And although we know how it all pans out, it’s presented in a thrilling enough fashion that at times I was left wondering what might happen to Henk and Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), the creator/designer of Tetris who, despite having developed the insanely popular game, received no royalties from the Soviet Union. Henk and Alexey develop a fast friendship during one of Henk’s visits to Moscow, and there seems to be a bit of genuine chemistry between Egerton and Efremov.
The movie is presented at times in a video game fashion, with pixelated animations providing clever segues denoting time passing and travel. It reminded me a bit of how they did transitions in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in a good way. It also provides a little bit of color and levity to a film that is often tense and quite dreary, owing to the fact that much of the action is set in the Soviet Union and its brutalist architecture.
All in all, I found myself entertained and often educated about the fascinating history behind Tetris. I knew it had been a Soviet product; at some point in my childhood, I learned to sing “Korobeiniki,” the game’s theme. And I knew that there had been a bit of a struggle to get it published here in the United States. After doing a bit of research, I found that the film did embellish a few scenes, but it was true to many of the main points. So if you ever spent hours of your childhood (or adulthood, I’m not gonna judge!) playing the game and wondered about its origins, Tetris will be sure to bring back a bit of nostalgia and provide a couple of hours of entertainment.
Tetris gets a B