The legal battle surrounding Tetris is something of a games industry legend. So it was inevitable that the story would receive the movie treatment at some point. However, unlike other recent Hollywood movies about video games, this one has its heart in the right place.
The video game Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov back in 1984, in the heart of the Soviet Union. The game was shared amongst his friends and then exploded in popularity across Russia, so much so that it impacted productivity at various workplaces.
The subsequent international licensing and the obvious issues fraught with that due to the way that the Soviet Union was structured underpins the immense complexities of its now legendary legal battle.
This is also the main core of the movie, chronicling the moustachioed Henk Rogers as he tries to license the game for international audiences and getting it onto the Game Boy.
The legal battle over Tetris has been thoroughly dissected in the decades since, and while this movie sticks to the spirit of that, there are some inevitable film related exaggerations. However, with the involvement of both Pajitnov and Rogers in the film’s creation, the story is kept broadly accurate.
Starting out with Rogers playing the game at a trade show, we follow his journey getting the game onto the Famicom, and then flying to Moscow to secure the hand held rights for the unannounced Game Boy.
In amongst all this are the now disgraced billionaire Robert Maxwell and the previous contractual negotiator, Robert Stein. All of them interested in securing the rights to a game that is clearly one of a kind.
What’s interesting about all this is that it places the game of Tetris in amongst world events at the end of the 80s. From the fall of the Soviet Union, to the collapse of Maxwell’s empire and the rise of Nintendo’s industry defining handheld, the Game Boy.
It’s this kind of cultural context that gives weight to what could have been a bland movie about a legal battle over a video game’s rights.
The legal battle is definitely sexed up somewhat though, with higher stakes and even a car chase, but it works because unlike other Hollywood movies about video games, it doesn’t shy away from gaming and its innate appeal.
A great example of this is with one scene later on in the movie where Pajitnov shows Rogers the original Tetris game he coded (shown above). Rogers then asks why the game only allows you to delete one line at a time, to which Pajitnov cracks open the back end and starts to make changes.
The elation of two wondrous beardie weirdies collaborating on a game is probably the closest I’ve seen a movie get to capturing what it is like to make a game. That alone makes this movie very special, because it gives context as to what everyone was fighting for and also humanises the profession of game development in a very real way.
Tetris is not only a very good and surprisingly fun video game movie, but it’s finally shown why we care so much about video games. Not only in terms of how we make them but also why we love playing them in the first place.
Now if only the rest of Hollywood could learn from this movie and finally start taking video game adaptations seriously.
Tetris is released on Apple TV+ on March 31st.
Disclosure: Apple sent me an advanced screener of the movie for the purposes of this review.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I also manage Mecha Damashii and do toy reviews over at hobbylink.tv.
Read my Forbes blog here.
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