Director: Jon S Baird | Script: Rose Noah | Cast: Taron Egerton (Henk Rogers), Nikita Efremov (Alexey Pajitnov), Toby Jones (Robert Stein), Oleg Stefan (Nikolai Belikov), Roger Allam (Robert Maxwell), Anthony Boyle (Kevin Maxwell), Ayane Nagabuchi (Akemi Rogers), ea | Time to play: 118 minutes | Year: 2023
Times were confusing and exciting in 1988. Communism was on its last legs and the fall of the Wall was not far off. Russian computer programmer Alexej Pajtitnov was working for a state-owned company when he invented a computer game in his spare time four years before he would change the world of video games forever. Despite all the simplicity of the game, Tetris eventually sold more than 500 million copies worldwide.
The name Tetris is a portmanteau of ‘tetra’, the Greek word for ‘four’, and tennis. Pajitnov wrote the game program on a makeshift computer that could not display graphics and where the blocks were made up of square brackets. When game designer Henk Rogers, who was originally Dutch but grew up in the United States, is introduced to Tetris at a trade show in Las Vegas, he knows one thing for sure. He must and will bring the game to the international market.
In the aptly named production of Apple TV+ tetris it’s not about the game itself, but mainly about the many shrewd businessmen who want to line their pockets. Rogers, who lives in Tokyo, manages to sell the game to Nintendo. The game and console producer understands tetris the perfect launch for your still-new Gameboy. But Rogers is not alone. His Hungarian competitor Robert Stein also tries to make a move, unaware that the Gameboy is coming.
And then there are father and son Maxwell, British business tycoons who also want to take advantage of the unprecedented possibilities of the addictive game. Despite the tremendous pace and humorous touch from director Jon S. Baird, the first half of his tetris a jumble of intrigue, business interests, complicated contracts and clauses, pissing competitions, and attempts by the Russians to take on these cunning capitalists. Because not only Pajitnov’s boss will be involved, but also the KGB.
tetris it’s a smooth and funny sit-in, thanks in no small part to leading man Taron Egerton. However, sooner or later it begins to get dizzy due to the abundance of competing parties and complications that sometimes even become legal. Most of the story takes place in Russia and under the yoke of communism which is a succession of clichés with Russians lining up for food, everything and everyone being tapped and incomprehensible travel restrictions.
There’s certainly some truth to it, but it seems suspicious that Baird, with a hint of nostalgia in his eyes, mainly wants to rave about it. On the other hand, the director is creative in his visual language. The locations start out as old-school 8-bit animations and the highlight is a car chase, where the vehicles are shown in the same animation style every time.
tetris It feels especially like an exciting children’s book, despite the sometimes hard-to-follow story. This is framed with a striking, if sometimes exaggerated, portrait of the last days of Soviet rule.
tetris can be seen in AppleTV+.