When you’re playing a round of Tetris, the Game Boy title from 1989, nothing is more satisfying than when you line up four horizontal rows perfectly, the blocks disappear, and you get that slightly different jingle to tell you that yeah, you did it, good job. It’s addictive and engrossing, and nowadays there are many different versions of Alexey Pajitnov’s game on various different platforms. Tetris, a video game about falling blocks that was developed in the Soviet Union, was and still is a video game revolution.
Tetris the movie, directed by Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie, Filth) is trying to replicate that satisfaction, that crowd-pleasing appeal that Tetris the video game has. But it has a much taller task than simply letting blocks fall. The film has to tell the story of how Tetris left the borders of the USSR, with political tensions reaching a boiling point in the background, and legalities, contracts, and technology twisting into a complicated web, all while addressing two different audiences – fans who know the story, and casual moviegoers (or Apple TV subscribers) who don’t.
Tetris the movie... is trying to replicate that satisfaction, that crowd-pleasing appeal that Tetris the video game has.
The story behind one of the 'simplest' video games of all time is anything but that. Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), the man who is out to secure the rights to Tetris for Nintendo, has to untangle this web to secure Alexey Pajitnov’s (Nikita Yefremov) game. Back in 1989, families getting a Game Boy with Tetris included had no idea of the hurdles that Rogers and Pajitnov had to overcome. Nowadays, the story is relatively well documented through essays and documentaries (Gaming Historian’s, in particular, is a must-watch). But every time you read up about it, it still feels unbelievable.
This adaptation takes a few liberties with the truth all for the purpose of entertainment. Broadly, though, it's correct, and both Rogers and Pajitnov reportedly reviewed the script and suggested changes. As the movie begins, “This is based on a true story” flashes up on the screen in pixel lettering. And “based on” is the key part, here. Broadly, it’s a fun thriller, but it falls apart in a few key areas. It turns out, trying to squeeze all of that drama into a two-hour movie is a pretty tall task.
The problem is that some parts are exaggerated for too much dramatic effect, while other sections are stretched a little too thin. Some of the more interesting parts are glossed over and instead traded for a fictionalised car chase sequence that, while fun, misses the point a little. The car chase feels extremely out of place and honestly made us laugh at its awkwardness initially before we just decided to settle in for the ride. The origin story of Tetris’ worldwide release is already thrilling – why do KGB agents need to be sneering around every single corner, like villainous cartoon characters cackling and hatching schemes?
The whole story is framed with slick production values (albeit with some slightly dodgy CGI late in the film), a likeable lead, and a soundtrack that – for us – is the highlight of the movie. Lorne Balfe’s score (with contributions from Aaron Hibell and South Korean girl group aespa) is brilliant; there are stunningly tense and sombre arrangements of Tetris songs mixed in with Russian versions of hits like Holding Out For a Hero and Heart of Glass – just to establish we’re in the ‘80s and all. And it all lines up perfectly to set the mood for each moment in the movie.
Taron Egerton is the heart of the movie. Rogers, the head of a video game publisher, is dubbed ‘Player 1’ in a rather cute colour pixel art transition at the start of the film. He is the plucky hero, a cowboy businessman who wants to win big, and an underdog — everything we want our Player 1 in a video game to be. He’s breathless, scrappy, energetic, and enthusiastic, and Egerton plays him with an enticing charm.
If you know anything about Henk Rogers, though, you know he’s not really an underdog. This is the founder of Bullet-Proof Software, the company which was responsible for what many call the “first major Japanese RPG”, The Black Onyx. Rogers is seen wearing a Black Onyx t-shirt in one scene, but the movie isn’t interested in Rogers’ history or resume other than the odd nod. It wants to paint a feel-good feature of the underdogs triumphing over greed and “bad” capitalism. And the film does a great job of illustrating a rosier, more explosive picture.
It wants to paint a feel-good feature of the underdogs triumphing over greed
Some of the film’s best moments involve Henk and Alexey bonding or talking with each other, or when political tensions and contracts begin to bubble up and congeal. In one scene when Rogers is staying at the Pajitnov’s home, he gets to see the very first home computer version of Tetris. Asking if he can play it, he sits at the desk, playing with a sort of childlike glee and fascination. Then, he asks the game’s creator a question – “Why can’t both lines disappear at once instead of one at a time?” to which Alexey responds, after a brief pause, that he “never thought of that”. These are two people who are meant to be together, to succeed together, and in that single scene, you feel the spark of friendship kindle between them.
Yefremov is solid as Alexey throughout the movie, but honestly, he doesn’t get much to work with. He’s much quieter than Henk, but his humble home and his modesty make him relatable. But aside from these two, many of the characters feel like caricatures or tropes, particularly the Maxwells of Mirrorsoft, the KGB, and most of the Russian characters. They feel like comic book villains, and even if it’s fun to watch Toby Jones as Robert Stein of Andromeda Software, it’s at odds with the more serious elements of Tetris.
The film is also always keen to remind us that it is, indeed, a video game movie. The pixel art transitions throughout start off feeling cute and novel, but by the tenth time you’ve seen them, they’re tiresome and they detract from the drama and complexity the film is trying to convey. Henk speaks to the president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi (Togo Iwaga, who looks uncanny in the role) in weird Mario metaphors, such as asking for a mushroom to help power him up.
The thing is, the movie doesn’t need to remind us that it’s about a video game – it’s about Tetris, one of the best-selling, well-known games of all time. It came packaged with the fourth best-selling video game console of all time. Tetris is one of those rare games that transcends the medium and has universal appeal because it’s a puzzler about falling blocks. It could have done with fewer nods to the medium, really, though we did enjoy watching Henk see the Game Boy for the very first time, another moment where childlike wonder comes over his face as he holds the grey brick in his hands for the first time at Nintendo of America.
The thing is, the movie doesn’t need to remind us that it’s about a video game – it’s about Tetris, one of the best-selling video games of all time.
So moments like the car chase sequence, or scenes where a CEO goes between multiple different rooms to try and negotiate multiple contracts, with each person getting more frustrated, might feel like a bit much (although a version of the latter did actually happen, apparently), but they add flavour and appeal. Again, this is a feel-good movie, one that we already know the conclusion to. We’re supposed to root for Alexey and Henk because of where Tetris is today in the cultural landscape. Thanks largely to the charisma of the lead actor, this dramatisation just about manages to make us care, but it feels messier than it should.
Tetris is, ultimately, trying to stuff too much within its two hours. It feels muddled, unsure of what tone it wants to strike. It’s trying to be a political thriller, an dramatic action flick, and a heartfelt feel-good story all at once, and its over-the-top characters and action clash with a real-life story about humble origins, corporate greed, and complicated legalities. It often comes across as cartoonish as a result. This means the blocks don’t quite line up for us, aside from a sublime soundtrack, a likeable lead performance from Egerton, and a bit of heart. It’s not a high scorer for us, but if you can live with the extra fluff and flash, it’s a little bit of fun while it lasts.
Tetris is available to stream on Apple TV+ in the UK and North America now. You can play the Game Boy version of Tetris over on Nintendo Switch Online.
Who plays the L shape block?
@jump Andy Serkis, in his most thrilling mo-cap role yet
I greatly enjoyed it. Yeah, some of the transitions and lines got old, but the soundtrack was great, and there were plenty of tense moments. Pretty good movie to hold me out until Mario on Wednesday.
Thought it was pretty cheesey. I'd had already listened to the Ultimate Video Game History (or something like that) audiobook so I was already familiar with the actual story, so made this a bit more interesting seeing how laughable some of the 'drama' aspects were.
Was better than I expected for a movie about Tetris though, which isn't saying too much.
I enjoyed the film more than the reviewer but yeah I would have preferred more detail in some areas and the pixel effects were overused (less would've been more there) but on the whole a pretty decent fun film. Give it a watch then return to this: https://youtu.be/_fQtxKmgJC8.
I watched it, and had a lot fun, the 8bit special effects in the car chase was lovely, and like most "based on" movies, they took liberties with the story, which I dont mind at all, this was a comedy/drama that was entertaining throughout, except for the daughter side story, they were going for something emotional with that ? But It just felt like filler (luckily just a very small percentage of the movie) , everything else was entertaining to watch.
Fun point I noticed from the movie is that the Mike Tyson clip was stolen from Game Grumps (orange border on the gameplay was a dead giveaway).
Really liked it.. it just gives you a nice sense of 80s thriller in a modern coating, with some nice gaming stuff thrown within. History wise it is a bit over the top, but as film highly recommended
I liked it well enough. It's definitely over the top and cartoonishly absurd at times compared to the actual story, but most of the major beats I wanted to see are in there, so I had a great time. It is very fun if you don't take it that seriously and if you absolutely love the real life story behind it, like me.
If you want to know the actual history, check out Gaming Historian's brilliant 'Story of Tetris' documentary, which is still one of my favourite videos on YouTube.
I'd love another movie in this style about Sega and Nintendo's war in the 90's ...or maybe about Atari's rise to fame with Pong and the VCS in the 70's. That could be even more entertaining.
Computer workspaces in the 80s weren't very well lit, it seems.
I would actually enjoy it if it's a movie about Tetris and not about a game call Tetris.
It was silly but very enjoyable. More like an 8, I would say.
Said it before and will say it again: if you want a less dramatized, more true-to-life retelling of this story, watch the Gaming Historian's documentary on the history of Tetris: https://youtu.be/_fQtxKmgJC8
I loved it. Funniest movie I've seen in a while. The soundtrack, the 8 bit graphics, it was all great. Maybe the KGB stuff was a bit overdone and drawn out, but I still give this an 8/10.
@OstianOwl Or you could watch the BBC documentary "Tetris: From Russia with Love" from 2004, which is an excellent telling of the whole story, and includes interviews of Pajitnov, Rogers, and most of the other key people involved.
I actually did enjoy it but lots of it really had me screaming "that never happened" at the TV.
I thought it was pretty darn good, myself.
I would honestly just recommend anyone interested in this story watch the Gaming Historian video about it on Youtube. It's much more faithful, it's shorter, and tells the story in a way that someone who is interested in the history of videogames would want to hear it.
Gaming Historian: The Movie.
I will admit I started to chuckle a bit in the later half when it got all political thriller-y (like the aforementioned car chase) for the sake of fictionalized drama, however the core true story behind it all was very interesting, and it's not all that often you get to watch a movie with Soviet era Moscow as the backdrop for most of it.
I actually liked it a lot more than Sonic 2, which I watched the week before.
Russian comic book villains populate your news as well as your movies. Strange, that.
Man I loved the movie. I'd give it an 8 personally. I've watched Norm Caruso's YouTube mini documentary many times so I already know the game's history, so this was just a bit of fun for me. Howard Lincoln cursing up a storm was too funny and the very notion of Nintendo execs being chased in Soviet Russia by the friggin KGB had me in stitches.
Just remember to compare the Mario film to Pixar and Studio Ghibli when deciding on a score. That's all I'm saying.
Just watch The Gaming Historian video on Tetris, it is a much more comprehensive take on the subject.
I'm surprised to see it scoring so low. I really enjoyed it! The sound track was fantastic, the writing was on point, and the visuals were very well executed — I was a little worried that they might dig too far into the augmented world stuff. Yeah, there was some dramatization going on and some compression, but that's the point of a movie. GH already did the comprehensive version of the facts.
I'd give it an 8 or 9, personally.
Gaming historian is boring af.
This movie also looks quite boring, honestly.
Looking forward to giving it a watch. I know the story well from David Sheffs book and the other excellent research that’s been done on the subject. I’m not expecting any new revelations, just a fun dramatisation.
"This adaptation takes a few liberties with the truth all for the purpose of entertainment."
I can't stand how this has become the norm. There have been a number of movies in the last decade or so where it's like, ok, something like that happened with Freddie Mercury and Queen, but nothing remotely like what's in the film. And then the majority of audiences leave thinking that was the reality.
Here's an idea for film-makers, if the original story isn't interesting enough, or you can't use cinematography to make the truth interesting, DON'T make the movie!!!
....yea, yea, money > truth I get it.
(a review of this "Tetris" movie: an enjoyable movie that could had been better off without profanity)
I thought it was a great watch. Obviously dramatised with a bit of creative license thrown in. Found it a bit hard to keep track of who was claiming to own what at the beginning but by the sounds of it, so were the companies involved! A little bit annoying when they made a "that's why Zelda has Link" reference despite showing a clip with two Link's from a game that came out well after the 80s, when Link and Zelda are famously NOT a partnership in the game.
"Andy Serkis, in his most thrilling mo-cap role yet"
Meh, I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂
Soundtrack by aespa 😍
I'm sure the movie is fine. I've seen the Gaming Historian doc and that's all I'll ever need to see on the subject.
...I was promised a scifi action movie about alien blocks falling onto cities and destroying them. >:c
I really loved the Tetris film. Had a great retro feel and was impressed by the quality of the production. Superb movie soundtrack. It was creative and well made. Much better than I thought.
@Mario500, yeah, I'm not a prude in that regard, but it seemed to have a couple dozen F-bombs for no other reason than to have them.
Not that it particularly bothered me, and I still thought it was a great film, but there's absolutely no reason for it to be R rated.
+1 for the great documentary made by Norm Caruso
@SonOfDracula They also tend to be subjective.
@fabiop so true!
The soundtrack from what I've heard is pretty great. Haven't been able to get Apple TV working on my PS5 after trying last night (I want that 6 month free trial) so I've yet to see the film yet. Hopefully I can sort that out soon, but for now the Mario movie will be first.
Dunno what you guys are talking about, this is the ultimate Tetris movie for me.
(not really caring for the opinions expressed, just a fun watch)
I really enjoyed the movie and reviewed it for my YouTube channel. Tied me over until the Mario movie. Any film that features Nintendo is always a good movie!
@jump L L COOL J
Not to be pedantic, but that’s been going on for a lot more than a decade. Highly fictionalized versions of “true” events have been a thing since the earliest days of cinema - and before that, in things like Shakespeare’s history plays.
I don’t think it’s inherently bad for storytellers to embellish a narrative - as long as they’re upfront about the fact that it’s not a 100% accurate retelling of history. Sometimes I understand why they make the changes - it can take a lot of bending and twisting to fit a real-life story that took place over months or years into a 2-hour film that audiences will find engaging and satisfying. But other times the added drama just feels forced or unnecessary.
Regardless, I just always assume that any piece of entertainment “based on a true story” is highly exaggerated or outright fabricated.
@jump Charlie Day makes a cameo as the L shaped block
@Chocobo_Shepherd I don't see any problem with fictionalization. But sometimes I feel the purpose of the fictionalization is only to make the film more pleasing to the crowd rather than because of some artistic driven choice. The ending sequence of Argo is an example of that.
I haven't seen this film but it seems like it is trying to walk a tightrope of remaining "based on a true story" while adding a bit too much dramatization and not quite succeeding.. it may have been better to just go a little bit more into the fictionalization and be "inspired by a true story"
@jump Charlie day
Aespa is actually one of my preferred kpop band at the moment, last mini album is fire. I am surprised netflix got them for the soundtrack. Usually they go Low profile (and Low cost)
"Computer workspaces in the 80s weren't very well lit, it seems."
I know it's a cliché that developers work in dark rooms but it's also kinda accurate. I personally prefer a well lit office with the blinds fully open. When at work I generally lose that fight. Less light => less glare. Also development is a pretty concentration heavy task, the sun might go down and you wouldn't notice for a couple of hours
As for the movie? The drama was a bit much but the movie is a drama so it makes sense. I enjoyed it, probably not movie of the year or something I'll go back to but it certainly wasn't bad. The actual true story was doing a LOT of the heavy lifting here. Which, frankly, is not unexpected considering how great the story they had was
The critics, as a whole, rate it "Very Good".
IMDB score isn't bad either.
I watched this film earlier today, I loved it! Sure its completely silly and barely grounded in reality but what did you expect of a movie based on Tetris? As many have pointed out there are multiple documentaries following the truth. Its very clear that its not following the real life events, more taking the idea and running with it to make a movie very inspired by over the top 1980s/early 90s action thrillers. Very fun.
I do wonder how much funding they got from the US miltary and government to make the Russians be portrayed a certain way in the mainstream... but I don't feel its too propaganda-ish, more cartoony riffs on the truth of Russian control over artists earning money in that time period. Personally I didnt' find anything objectional in that way.
BTW for those unware, both are (often uncredited) sources of funding for a surprising amount of movies that you wouldn't expect, and propping up the careers of certain actors, including the reason Chris Pratt keeps getting cast in weird roles, including Mario! Its a whole kettle of fish. And its not a weird conspiracy rabbit hole. I know many people who've either accepted or been offered funding on seemingly non political films - its more about pushing certain ideas of "good vs evil" and what consitutes "an american hero" or "western values"... even including silly kids movies. I actually had the budget for my own superhero movie slashed because I wouldn't accept such money, as I wanted to retain full control over the script and casting choices. But I don't judge anyone that takes it, often it has little to no impact, and its "free" money (without getting into the ethics of using tax payers money for such purposes. I probably agree with you but lets not start a political flamewar please).
@fR0z3nS0u1 Haha you beat me to it, I was about to post this!
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