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‘Tetris’ tells complex story of simple game

A few years ago, my family was trying to decide on something to watch together. One of my kids suggested a documentary on the YouTube channel Gaming Historian called “The Story of Tetris.” We all agreed and I proceeded to watch one of the most fascinating hours about falling bricks you can imagine. I remember thinking the events could make a really great movie. Apparently director Jon S. Baird agreed, because the movie “Tetris” is now available to stream on Apple TV+.

Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) is working at the small software company, Bulletproof Software. While at a consumer electronics show where he is trying to sell a digital copy of the board game Go, he discovers a new game from Russia —Tetris. He sees the appeal of this simple game, and heads to Russia to try to secure the rights to it. However, when he gets there, he finds himself in competition with Robert Maxwell (Robert Allam) of Mirrorsoft and Robert Stein (Toby Jones) of Andromeda Software.

But the purchase of Tetris is tricky. It was developed by Alexy Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) while he was working for the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre in the Soviet Union, making his project officially property of Russia. ELORG, a state-owned company, owned the rights to Tetris, and were willing to sell them. But between a language barrier and confusion over what the word “computer” meant — is a
gaming console a computer? — who had the rights to Tetris becomes really confusing. Add to that the introduction of the Nintendo GameBoy and the race to own Tetris is at full speed!

I would never have guessed that licensing rights to an 80s video game would be so exciting, but honestly, this is a truly thrilling story and movie. While some liberties were taken with the story to increase the dramatic impact, there is much about it that is just simply how the story went.

The film has a really great look. It is shot like a spy thriller, rather than a typical biopic, and that adds to the atmosphere. It also leans into the 8-bit aesthetic by giving us pixelated transition screens. It feels like the two would be at odds with each other, but it really does work. There is a lot of exposition at the front of the movie that feels a bit clunky, but overall, the story is fairly tight, even as the details are somewhat convoluted.

The performances in this are great. I particularly like the chemistry between Edgerton and Efremov as they show the friendship between Rogers and Pajitnov, two men who did develop a close friendship in real life.

If you’ve played any video game in your life, you’ve probably played at least a few minutes of Tetris. It is a fun, simple game. It’s even been shown to help people recovering from a stroke. So, discovering the true story of Tetris can be absolutely fascinating. I don’t know if all of the blocks fall quite into place in this movie, but it’s a good time nevertheless.

ALISE CHAFFINS is a Morgantown writer who loves movies and sharing her opinions. She reviews a movie from a streaming service every Saturday and one newly in theaters every Sunday. Find more at MacGuffin or Meaning on Substack.