The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Tetris

By Josh Bate & George Bate

Tetris movie

In modern day Hollywood, film studios are always looking for previously established IP to turn into a new franchise. Video games are a huge source of new stories, hence the release (and massive success) of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, based off of the iconic Nintendo franchise of the same name.

Tetris is the latest in a long line of video game films, which released on Apple TV+ on March 31. The key caveat with this film is that Tetris is not an adaption of the game it’s named after, but rather a film about the fascinating true story of how it all came to be, which is deeply rooted in the Cold War era in which it takes place. 

Tetris movie

Tetris follows Taron Edgerton’s Henk Rogers, a relatively low level video/arcade game manufacturer, who discovers Tetris at a convention and decides to bet his life savings on buying the distribution rights and selling it worldwide. Edgerton’s character did not create the game, a vital piece of information that serves as the entry point for the Cold War narrative to kick in. A man in the Soviet Union created Tetris and then licensed it outward, which rattles some feathers in the USSR as the fascist government wants a piece of the huge financial windfall that’s about to come from the game. What follows is essentially a battle for the rights to the game, which includes backstabbing and sketchy business dealings all round. 

The biggest compliment that can be paid to Tetris is that it’s a relatively well paced, entertaining period piece that is light on its feet and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Twenty years ago, this would have been the exact kind of film to be released in movie theaters and make a substantial profit, but vast changes in the industry means that this is a streaming release. As far as streaming films go, many are hit and miss. Netflix release countless original films every year, some of which are memorable but many seem to exist purely as mindless entertainment when someone has nothing else to watch rather than a story with actual substance. 

Tetris movie

Tetris does have that substance, at least to a certain extent, and the film is subversive in that audiences’ expectations going in are likely along the lines of questioning how a story based on the inner workings of the release of this particular video game could be in any way interesting. Much of the enticing aspects of Tetris come from its time and setting, as the film takes place mainly in the Soviet Union not too long before the fall of the government and subsequent breakup into various different countries. There’s some great song choices that are played in key moments that help to further ground the story in the late 1980s, and these are also blended well with some unique filmmaking decisions that remind audiences that this is ultimately still a film about Tetris the game.

One particular moment that stands out is a car chase sequence late on in the film, where the heroes are attempting to escape the Soviet Union after securing the necessary contracts and agreements necessary to begin manufacturing and selling the game worldwide. The chase is filmed with real cars, but is interspersed with graphics reminiscent of the original Tetris game when a vehicle crashes or is taken out of the action, mirroring the dissolution of the blocks when a line is completed in the game.

Tetris movie

There are some unique moments such as that throughout the film, but unfortunately they don’t come as often as they should. At its worst, Tetris descends into a relatively confusing tale about the fight for the rights to the game, which might be told in a semi-entertaining way at times but is too often sloppy and repetitive. Once the main characters get to the Soviet Union, for example, much of the film takes place in three rooms as the government officials go back and forth from one to another as the battle for the rights heats up. At times, it really is as simple as a character walking into a room, speaking briefly with someone, then walking into the next room, only for the cycle to repeat itself again and again. The extremely repetitive nature is made even worse by the fact that, even as months are going by in the story, some of the characters in these rooms inside of a Soviet Union government building are wearing the same exact clothes the entire time.

Speaking of lead characters, the film doesn’t do a good enough job of showing why audiences should be invested or care deeply about Taron Edgerton’s Henk Rogers. Edgerton puts in a relatively good performance, although it is difficult to hide the fact that there’s very little characterization beyond him simply being a video game developer in the 1980s. There are some moments of promise, such as the presence of his wife and kids in Japan, although even these elements are not explored as much as they could be, leaving his character to feel too empty at times. 

Tetris movie

Verdict: 5.5/10

Tetris might be better than a lot of original films on streaming services, particularly as it proves to be steadily entertaining throughout, but this can’t hide the faults of the film. The fixation on telling this story mostly in just a couple of rooms inside of a building, a decision that makes the proceedings feel like Groundhog Day at times, is absolutely bizarre. Taron Edgerton puts in a good performance, something that is expected for an actor of his caliber, but his character feels too much like a shell rather than a real person.

Tetris is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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