By Janie Walenda
When I think about Tetris, my first thought usually isn’t Cold War espionage, but that’s the premise of Apple TV’s “Tetris:” A look inside the convoluted negotiations for the rights to license Tetris during the 1980s. While the characters are based on very real people, it’s dubious how much of this high-stakes and dramatized movie is factual. However, the end result is so entertaining, I didn’t mind it.
Taron Egerton plays the hero of the story, Henk Rogers. As Rogers navigates an increasingly complicated web of contracts, royalties and media rights, Egerton convincingly portrays Rogers’ unending conviction about the possible success of Tetris. He perfectly understands the tone, allowing the audience to laugh at Rogers’ absurd confidence while playing it seriously enough to eventually draw them in. Nikita Efremov as Tetris’ creator, Alexey Pajitnov, builds great rapport with Egerton and helps to center the absurd film with some real heart.
It’s hard to summarize the plot without descending into a rabbit hole of business jargon and complex negotiations. The film does a decent job of keeping the storyline clear to the viewer, and more importantly, making it clear enough that the viewer doesn’t need to understand every single aspect of business negotiations. It balances its business-heavy plot with plot lines about Rogers’ and Efremov’s families, allowing the emotional and physical stakes to always be obvious, even when the financial stakes are murkier.
Regardless of how much the viewer comprehends the business side of the plot, it would be hard for anyone to watch “Tetris” and not walk away fascinated by this glimpse into the iconic game’s development. The film somehow manages to combine an exploration of game development with Cold War politics. As soon as Rogers touches down in Moscow, he encounters the frustrating hold that the Russian government has on economic development, including preventing Pajitnov from receiving royalties for his creation of Tetris. This glimpse behind the Iron Curtain, with an emphasis on business development rather than strictly political intrigue, is truly fascinating.
The biggest strength of “Tetris” is its snappy stylization. Charming eight-bit illustrations help the audience keep track of the ever-changing locations, stages of the story and ownership of game rights. These eight-bit moments, combined with sharp editing and a fast-paced script result in a film that is always entertaining.
The best part of “Tetris” for me is its killer score. When the classic Tetris soundtrack is worked into the score, it makes me break out into a cheesy grin. A finely curated collection of classic ‘80s hits, including the best usage of “I Need A Hero” since “Shrek 2,” adds immensely to the film’s more tense moments.
In many ways, “Tetris” is similar to other business-focused movies, like “Social Network.” However, its stylization and frenetic energy set it apart. It’s outlandish enough to hold attention throughout confusing business discussions and grounded enough to allow the audience to root for the characters.
“Tetris” is streaming on Apple TV+
Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew.
Images courtesy of Apple Studios