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Age Rating15
DirectorJon S. Baird
Runtime1 hour 58
Release Date UK2023
SynopsisTetris” tells the unbelievable story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way to avid players around the globe. Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers TETRIS in 1988, and then risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the game to the masses. Based on a true story, “Tetris” is a Cold War–era thriller on steroids, with double-crossing villains, unlikely heroes and a nail-biting race to the finish.

The Silver Hedgehog Rating

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Introduction To Tetris

30 years ago (1993), Nintendo broke the mould inventing the video game film adaptation, with Super Mario Bros the Movie.  Since then, there have been countless adaptations of video games across, film, tv, comics and books.  Then, from nowhere, Tetris pops up on my Apple TV home screen.  Imagining some Battleships and Emoji movie style nightmare, I sat down to watch.

Tetris Script/Screenplay

5 Out Of 10

5 Out Of 10

Directed by Jon S. Baird (Stan & Laurel) and written by Noah Pink (Genius).  To my relief this film isn’t the sci-fi fest I imagined it would be, forcing me to ask myself one question throughout the film …

Just how influenced by Aaron Sorkin is Noah Pink?

Tetris opens with Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) trying to sell his game software at the Consumer Electronics Show 1988 in Las Vegas, with little success.  Then, after spotting his salesgirl wander off and start playing a new game ‘Tetris’ he has a brainwave and Tetris blocks start falling in his mind.  Cut to a meeting with a bank manager where Henk retells his (mostly) true story of how he became the worldwide rights owner to Tetris, whilst asking for 3 million dollars.

What follows is around 2 hours of Henk Rodgers flying to various countries such as Japan, UK, Russia, and America, having a cat and mouse game with the epitome of fat cats Robert Maxwell, his bulldog son (Mr Maxwell to you*) of Mirrorsoft, the KGB, a sneaky Russian middleman Robert Stein (Toby Jones) and Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) the game designer at state owned ELORG, and Nintendo.  All whist trying to entice the games inventor and his communist bosses into signing the rights to Tetris over to him.

*Side note they are friends with Mikhail Gorbachev– don’t you know . Well, if you didn’t, you will as they can’t stop telling everyone!

Using Pink’s story, Baird manages to convey an environment where the ideology of loyalty goes head-to-head, with the capitalist view of money talks.  The KGB are torn between protecting Russian sovereignty steering in a more capitalist approach.  Try as he might, Pink cannot avoid some ‘Sorkinisation’ of his dialogue.  Tetris gets very talky very quickly.  At times the script feels like a something akin to the West Wing, whilst also reminding me of The Social Network, although Pink’s dialogue doesn’t flow quite as eloquently.  Most of the negotiation talks takes place within Russian conference rooms of ELORG.   Henk tries to explain to Russians that they have been conned by Murdoch, and the Russians simultaneously attempt to screw everyone over.  This becomes a biopic all about intellectual property rights and the sale of Russian products to the West, rather than solely focused on Henk.

It’s not all conference rooms though, Pink writes in some Espionage tropes that make the film pivot from a legal drama to an espionage thriller, throwing in some good ol’ cliches such as the protagonist being honey trapped for blackmail, KGB agents Driving black ‘Volga’s’, secret meetings behind buildings and even a car chase!  I get that Henk risked his life and inadvertently put himself and his family in a very dangerous position, but it seems when writing the story Pink did not settle on quite how to portray the real-life events.

It’s a script that has blocks of genres of different shapes that don’t quite fall together to make a line.

Tetris Standout Casting

9 out of 10

Lillie Jeffrey (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) and Reg Poerscout-Edgerton (The King’s Man) have handled casting for Tetris and asembled a supporting cast including :

Taron Egerton… Henk Rogers
Mara Huf … Tracy
Miles Barrow … Dennis Jackson
Rick Yune … Bank Manager
Nikita Efremov … Alexey Pajitnov
Toby Jones ... Robert Stein
Aleksey Shedko … Alexey’s Lab Chief (as Alexey Shedko)
Natalia Gonchar … MCSC Secretary
Oleg Stefan … Nikolai Belikov (as Oleg Shtefanko)
Roger Allam … Robert Maxwell
Anthony Boyle … Kevin Maxwell
Ayano Yamamoto … Nintendo Secretary Japan
Nino Furuhata … Yamauchi’s Assistant

Heres my view on a few key cast members..

Taron Egerton

Egerton is building up a repertoire of biopics.  In Tetris, Egerton plays Henk Rogers – a Dutch Cowboy entrepreneur living in Japan looking for his big break.  This is not an easy role to pull off.  Henk is a one-dimensional character.  He starts the film as a maverick risk taker and after everything that happens to him, he ends the film as a richer, maverick, risk taker.  Egerton manages to bring Henk to life with quirky mannerisms and nailing the legal dialogue.  If I must criticise anything he choice to have Henk speak English to his Japanese family whilst his family reply in Japanese that he immediately immediately understandslies back in English.  He does this throughout the film, apart from one scene where he speaks Japanese, very unconvincingly I might add.  I found this to be a very odd character choice.

Roger Allam

Played by Rodger Allam, wearing the most obvious prosthetic face I have seen for a long time! Until I watched Tetris, I didn’t know that Robert Maxell ventured into software or almost got his hands on Tetris, so the film does a good job on that front.  Again, Pink’s writing creates a rather one-sided character.  Allam literally must stand or sit and depending on the scene and sometimes walk and shout about the virtues of communist loyalty.   That said, Allam’s Maxwell is most convincing, making you believe that you are watching the media proprietor in his element trying to pull the strings, while his son’s activities do not go to plan.

Toby Jones

Anyone that’s ever watched Toby Jones act will understand when I say that in Tetris, Toby gives a very Toby Jones performance.  He plays Robert Stein, a video games license pariah.  Finding software and arranging the licencing to men like Maxwell, whilst keeping an eye out for himself.  Jones can come across a very meek and sensitive man but can also display rage when needed and that’s exactly what director Baird needed for this role.  Jones manages to find Stein’s motivations and uses them to great effect.  I would say he is the best supporting actor in the film.

Sound/Music/Score

8 out of 10

Tetris features a soundtrack from the late 80’s early 90’s and it a fantastic throwback to that point in time.   The tracks masters in Atmos sound fantastic. Tracks such as Holding Out for a Hero, Heart of Glass and by Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) and are used to underline the narrative on screen.  There is even a brief interlude with a group of Russians singing ‘The Final Countdown’ in a foreshadowing of the imminent collapse of communist Russia.

Lorne Balfe has created the score to Tetris and its possibly one of the easiest scores he has had to create.  Maybe you have played Tetris, maybe you haven’t, but I’m sure you will have heard that famous Tetris theme tune! In 1861, a Russian poet by the name of Nikolay Nekrasov wrote a poem called Korobeiniki (the Russian word for peddlers).  That Poem follows a particular musical arrangement and that became the basis for the Tetris Theme.  A Russian game needed a Russian Theme after all, and it was perfect for the 8-bit sound.

Rather expectantly Balfe uses snippets of this theme slowed down to frame his score.  (It feels like slowing down well-recognised themes is becoming a Balfe trademark).  Unlike his work on Mission or Maverick though, there is no grand re-orchestration.  Instead, Balfe cleverly opts to use the 8-bit sound as his inspiration, mixed with early 90’s Techno.  Check out his track Benevolence (Tetris Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Visual Effects and Costumes

5 Out Of 10

Effects 5 Out Of 10

The make-up team had their work cut out on Tetris with mixed results.  The lead actors all look great, apart from Roger Allam.  His prosthetic face just looked so obvious against the rest of the cast. It had an obvious rubbery texture to it.

There are also some odd stylistic choices made by Baird that start with the use of 8-bit graphics to create the opening titles, in itself not a bad idea.  That is then followed up with Baird choosing to frame each third of the film as a different level.  With 8-bit graphics indicating that the film has levelled up, as the stakes get higher.  This is to remind us of its game origins, but it’s an odd choice stylistically as the aesthetic doesn’t quite work with the seriousness of the scenes that it cuts between.  Perhaps the oddest effect of the whole film is a car chase.  Henke is on the run from the KGB and every time his car is about to crash against something, it turns it an 8-bit pixelated version of itself, which has nothing to do with Tetris and nothing in the rest of the film is so pixelated.  It’s one of those great ideas on paper moments that should have been shelved in post.

There are also inconsistencies with the era the film is set in, the aeroplane interiors do not look like they are from the 1990’s.

Tetris Video Quality

7 Out Of 10

7 Out Of 10

 

Alwin H. Küchler (cinematographer on one of my favourite Sci-Fis Sunshine) is handling the cinematography of Tetris.  Working with director Baird he paints soviet era Russia with a distinctly brown colour palette.  Providing a very closed in claustrophobic view of the Russian mindset at the time.  This is in stark contrast to the West, specifically Nintendo who are portrayed in bright white offices.  It’s not the most original way to differentiate the two ideologies on screen, it’s all a bit obvious and forced.   I did notice some great camera work from Küchler, for example using unusual angles to show both the KGB and civilian sides of the story.

I watched Tetris on Apple TV+ and as expected t was streamed in Atmos with Dolby Vision, and it looked great.

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Tetris Overall Thoughts

Henk Rogers lone wolf, entrepreneur cowboy story is an interesting one – a man with little knowledge of Russian culture and a flare for contract details.  He embarks on a journey that pits him against the Russian state, Western corporations and one of the biggest media tycoons of the time.

It’s a story that prompted Noah Pink to write Tetris and Jon S. Baird to direct.  But instead of a biopic focused on a person, they chose to focus on the Russian political environment of the early 90’s and their inability to spot contract flaws.   The characters are portrayed by great actors doing a decent job under decent direction, but they are given very little character to work with.

The weird mix of comedy, thriller, action and 8-bit effects shouldn’t work, and it almost doesn’t with a long middle act, but I must say that Tetris  is a reasonably enjoyable film.  Its soundtrack popping in the background helping those rose-tinted glasses I’m wearing stay on my nose.

I give ‘Gaming License the Movie’ an Average rating.

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script/Screenplay - 5
Casting - 9
Visual Effects - 5
Video Quality - 7
Sound/Music/Score - 8

6.8

Average

The weird mix of comedy, thriller, action and 8-bit effects shouldn’t work, and it almost doesn’t,

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Words Garry

Editor JJ

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