Landing on Apple+ TV from today is the drama biopic, Tetris. The movie – directed by Jon S. Baird – stars Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Oleg Stefan, Roger Allam, Anthony Boyle, and Nikita Efremov, and tells the story of the history and the complicated licensing rights to smash-hit ‘80s video game, Tetris.
In the movie, the year is 1988, and after attending a convention in Las Vegas, computer game developer Henk Rogers purchases the Japanese console licensing rights to new Russian video game, Tetris. Rogers believes Tetris is going to be huge, and after picking up those rights he approaches Nintendo about the game in order to get it into as many homes as possible.
Nintendo sees the potential in the game and agrees with Rogers, but with Rogers having access rights for the Japanese market only, this limits sales. That is until Nintendo share their new product with him – the Nintendo Game Boy – and Rogers sees a new opportunity.
No one has purchased the rights to produce Tetris for handheld devices. As such, if Rogers can secure an agreement over this area of the game, Nintendo would be able to market Tetris worldwide via their new piece of hardware.
However, there is one significant stumbling block: In order to obtain the rights, Rogers will need to head to Moscow to make a deal with its owners, at a point in time where the USSR do not look favourably on outsiders. He also has the added problem that a number of other businessmen are trying to secure the rights to the game, including media mogul Robert Maxwell.
Now, if the above plot description sounds a bit stuffy and doesn’t quite win you over, then let me make it clear now that Tetris is not as dry or as dull as it might seem. Sure, this is a two-hour picture which largely focuses on contract disputes, political tensions, and corporate affairs, but director Jon S. Baird manages to take all of the bluff and bluster of the business world, smooth it all out, and transform it into a truly engaging movie.
When I sat down to watch Tetris, I didn’t expect to find myself as interested in the film as I ultimately became. Corporate affairs are not my kind of thing, neither are movies about rights issues, and yet the more I watched Tetris, the more I found myself compelled by what was unfolding.
The story was interesting, the performances from everyone involved was top notch, and Baird managed to find a way to defuse some of the drier aspects of the narrative. In essence, he has taken what could have been the most boring premise in existence, and turned it into an enjoyable film.
Working from a strong script by Noah Pink, which untangles many of the complexities of the Tetris backstory, Baird offers up a film which is easily accessible. This begins with a stellar performance from lead star, Taron Egerton, who plays the role of Henk Rogers, and continues with a great soundtrack, and some key editing choices which brighten up this movie.
Every time the film looks as if it will descend into endless discussions and boardroom negotiations, Egerton is on hand to guide the audience along with his likeable screen presence. He drives his way through this picture, as a man on a mission, and he ensures everyone follows along with him.
Then whenever the film veers into territory where it looks as if even Egerton might struggle to keep things ticking along, Baird drops in an electro pop song, or adds some on-screen retro 8-bit graphics, to distil some of the starch and to liven things up. Both of these techniques are always deployed at just the right moment, to help sand off any of the harder edges of the narrative, and when combined with Egerton they ensure the film keeps going without any major lulls.
But it isn’t just Egerton and some vital editing choices which work well for this movie, the film benefits from some strong supporting performances, including Roger Allam’s Robert Maxwell, and Nikita Efremov’s Alexey Pajitnov (aka the creator of Tetris). The movie also includes a great turn from Anthony Boyle, who excels in the role as the oily Kevin Maxwell – the son of Robert, who tries his best to secure the rights to Tetris, even though he is out of his depth.
Add to all this some informative political and historical commentary, a perfectly serviceable side story about the Rogers family, and some great ‘80s costuming, and you have a tip top picture. While Tetris may not draw in the crowds with its discussions about ownership deals and contracts, it sure will please those who give it their time.
A couple of years ago, when I heard that Apple TV+ were developing a biopic about the Tetris game, that would focus on the legal side of the story, I must admit my interest level was practically zero. As much as I love the game, which I played non-stop on the Game Boy when I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine how this film would work or maintain my interest.
But fast-forward to today, and I will happily admit that my fears that this film would be a complete dud have all been proved wrong. Sure, it does have to work hard at times to downplay some of the stodgier aspects of the real-life story, even going so far as to throw in a largely unnecessary car chase to create its climax, but what it delivers is pretty good.
There are multiple ways in which Apple TV+ could have gone with the Tetris property in order to turn it into a film, maybe even going so far as to serve up a crappy cartoon featuring talking blocks, but ultimately the right decision was made to just focus on the game itself. The movie industry has a history of getting it wrong when it comes to adapting games for the screen, and yet on this occasion, those in charge got it right.
While Tetris may not appeal to everyone, this is a picture which is worth your time. If you ever played the game in the past, and found it as addictive as heck, then consider spending a couple of hours on this movie, to get an insight into how that game made it into your life.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review on It’s A Stampede!. For more reviews, check out the recommended reads below.
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