Per Matt
I have a love-hate relationship with Tetris, the video game. One of the first memories I have with it spawned from my high-school computing class. The little Macintosh black-and-white computer screen welcomed me into its gameplay, much like it has with millions of others around the world. Its goal is so easy to understand, yet it’s practically impossible to master. And it’s terribly addicting. All these years later, I still consider myself a fan of the little game that could, although that doesn’t stop me from getting incredibly frustrated whenever I drop a game piece into the wrong place.

That being said, I was very enthusiastic about the prospects of a Tetris feature film. From what little I knew about the game’s programmer (Wikipedia didn’t exist back then.), I did know that Alexey Pajitnov didn’t receive a dollar from his habit-forming creation. Even back then, I realized that wasn’t fair, but I wanted to know more about the creator’s journey in bringing his dream to the small CRT screen.

In stepped Apple Studios, and the end-result is Tetris, debuting today on Apple TV+.

This 8-bit fairy tale stars Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers, a video game salesman/developer who first lays eyes on the titular game in 1988. Much like my initial response, he was instantly hooked… but he saw dollar signs in its worldwide distribution. If technology is the future, then video games are surely leading the charge.

“It’s poetry, art and math, all working in magical synchronicity… It’s the perfect game.”

From there, the film becomes a globe-trotting adventure that takes the stranger-than-fiction true story from Tokyo to Moscow to Seattle to London, and back again. Rogers takes the bank-owed money for a failed video game (Go), and becomes a licensee of another video game, but the devil is in the details, and some specifics are lost in translation. His cowboy reputation is tested as eyes and ears are everywhere for Mother Russia, always reporting on his misadventures.

This is a Cold War underdog tale, where the Big Bads tend to alternate from national cultural differences, corporate culture and even the Communist Party. For Rogers (and later Pajitnov, as played by Nikita Efremov), breaking the rules and risking it all to build something is important and good ideas have no borders.

As a foreigner in a foreign world dealing with double-crossing villains, and a dangerous web of lies and corruption behind the Iron Curtain, Taron did a great job of acting and surprisingly, so did the weaselly Toby Jones. The film breaks down its acts as levels, and I have to admit, I was a huge fan of its 8-bit art. And as any gamer can attest, whenever the Tetris theme song is heard, those falling blocks will instantly terrorize — or thrill — you.

While it’s even better when played by a symphony orchestra (Video Games Live does it right!), it’s well represented here. The electronic version played over the end credits intrigues me enough to purchase the film’s soundtrack.

I have no idea how much of the billionaire boardroom bickering is based on real life, but I do know portions of the film are true. While the Communist manifesto plays a big part of the theme, making money holds an even greater importance for these unlikely heroes.

I enjoyed reliving the game’s nostalgia through this film, including my fuzzy first memories of playing it on the original Game Boy (which is featured prominently in archive footage while the credits roll). Pairing Tetris with the first handheld console was pure genius, but attaining its rights was no easy feat.

Now that I’ve finished watching the film, my completionist urges to unlock the final achievement of my very first XBOX 360 game, Tetris Evolution, have returned. This game may very well haunt my dreams forevermore, but the movie won’t. I highly recommend it.

“Never underestimate the power of BASIC…”