Film Review: “Tetris”


Screengrab from: “Tetris”

Jon S. Baird directs AppleTV+’s new original movie, “Tetris”. The film follows the story of how one of the world’s most famous games came to the masses. Pictured above is Taron Egerton who plays Henk Rogers.

Cassandra Bauer, Film Reviewer

Coming out within the same week as Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”, Apple TV+’s new film “Tetris” is packing in an extra wave of Nintendo nostalgia.

This part fact part fiction biopic follows Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) as he first discovers what is referred to as “the perfect game” at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Mesmerized by its combination of art and math, Henk embarks on a mission to earn Tetris international licensing rights to be distributed across the globe. The only issue is this is all set when tensions are high between the US and the game’s home country, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. But after learning Nintendo wants to license the game for their upcoming handheld gaming device (spoiler alert: it’s the GameBoy), Henk takes the dangerous trek beyond the iron curtain to negotiate contracts with the Soviet government.

Amidst these glorified business meetings, we do get to meet the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, who gradually forms a sweet bromance with Henk as they fight through messy paperwork to get his game to the public. Framing the story around the man who secured the rights to the game and not the man who actually created it was a strange angle for the story, but possibly was done in order to tap into a cold war tension storyline. This isn’t to discredit Egerton, who brings his usual rigorous enthusiasm, and creates an incredibly likable character we all want to root for. 

The movie is marinated in all aspects of the game. There are pixelated intertitles, falling blocks, and the Tetris tune is woven into the score. This detailed creativity is what helps to sell the premise. At times, it feels like you’ve been losing track of time in a classic arcade. In these moments the tone is slightly goofy and you can see both the characters and the filmmaker’s genuine appreciation of the game. A few epically placed needle drops of 80s hits add to the fun and games. These are the moments when the film works well, but then there is the Cold War political thriller part of it all.

Now I’m not saying this aspect of the story isn’t interesting, but something about a simple pixel game and death threats from the KGB does not quite go together. The dramatization of what was likely a series of dull meetings then culminating into corporate espionage did feel forced. I’m not of the opinion that biopics need to be 100 percent truthful. If some details are altered to better serve the narrative I wouldn’t take any issue, but this movie seems to really stretch the true events it’s based on to fit into the generic mold of a political thriller. Also, the film seems to argue that Tetris had a relatively large role in diffusing Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, which I find incredibly difficult to believe.

Though I do have to applaud “Tetris” for its attempts to be inventive within the biopic formula. It brings high-level stakes by combining a political thriller with quirky 8-bit graphics, showing a battle between capitalism, communism and greedy cash grabbers. 

Watch Tetris on Apple TV + now.