You probably would expect a film about the origins of a simple stacking block computer game to be bland and dry, but director Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink give “Tetris” the glossy Hollywood treatment. The movie tells the unbelievable true story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way into the hands of players all over the globe. It’s a story of greed, lies, manipulation, and control, playing fast and loose with the facts in order to create an embellished espionage thriller.
After video game designer and publisher Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers TETRIS in 1988, he sees a lot of potential. Henk tracks down the inventor in the Soviet Union, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), hoping to become partners to bring his game to the masses. Putting everything on the line, Henk travels to Russia during the height of the Cold War and isn’t welcomed with open arms. When big money players like Nintendo and Atari get involved, his mission becomes even more complicated. Even worse, Henk attracts the attention of the shadowy KGB, who want to secure the rights to TETRIS for their home country.
The elaborate story is far-fetched and silly, and it goes to unexpected places because the history of TETRIS is turned into a crazy circus of a thriller. There are so many twists and turns that it’s exhausting to keep up, but the film keeps things interesting by raising the stakes with fictional scenarios. After all, there are only so many talky negotiations, licensing, contracts, business deals, and under the table government conversations that one can endure without a few harrowing car chases or scenes of our hero being harassed by KGB men in black. The result is a narrative that’s complicated, with everybody lying to everyone else while they argue over the rights to a computer game.
Baird’s directorial choices may feel questionable to some, but I found his use of retro 8-bit animation to tell parts of his story to be breezy and fun. There is a good sense of comedy too, which breaks up the more monotonous aspects of the movie. And while the action and thriller elements are admittedly corny, most everyone loves a story of an underdog taking down “the man” with a bit of Cold War espionage thrown into the mix.
Egerton holds much of the film together, and he gives a solid, enjoyable performance. He’s an understated actor with a ton of unexpected charisma, and he’s well-suited to the leading man role.
If you don’t know the story behind the birth of TETRIS, this film is an interesting way to get a decent outline of how it came to be. You’ll want to research what really happened, of course, and spoiler alert: you are going to be disappointed by just how much of the story as presented on screen is fiction. But if you’ve ever played one of the most addictive puzzle games in history (and even if you have not), you’ll find “Tetris” not only interesting, but a lot of fun, too.