‘Tetris’ movie adds mayhem to an already intriguing tale (VIDEO)
MARCH 29 — Tetris is a game so embedded in the public consciousness that decades after its creation, it still hasn’t faded into irrelevance.
When I heard a Tetris film was being made, I assumed it would be something as ridiculous as The Emoji Movie with gigantic talking blocks as well as a nonsensical plot.
What I didn’t expect was a Cold War setting, a car chase, menacing KGB agents and a story that would seem ludicrous if it wasn’t based on actual facts.
A Cold War buddy film
At the centre of this comedic intrigue are the duo of Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov, played by Taron Egerton and Nikita Yefremov respectively.
Pajitnov was a civil servant who, in his spare time and with the help of friends, put together a simple but addictive game that involved falling blocks.
Rogers, who is also incidentally the father of the Japanese RPG, discovered the game, saw its potential and finagled his way into Russia despite the ever present danger of being an American in Russia during the Cold War.
What helped open the way for him, and Tetris, was the thawing of US-Russian relations.
Fun fact: the original title of the film’s script was Falling Blocs and if the director, Jon S. Baird had his way, the film would have been a lot more about political tensions but thankfully, they are a part of, but not the main plot.
What was unfortunately cut from the film was a longer scene of Rogers meeting with Pajitnov.
Not depicted in the film is how they built a connection that remains to this day — with both of them founding the Tetris Company as well as forging a friendship that went beyond the game.
During a media roundtable to promote the film, the real Rogers and Pajitnov were in attendance and I got to ask Tetris’ Russian creator if Rogers being a game developer himself was a factor in his deciding to work with the American.
Rogers said that yes, it did indeed help: “It’s the reason Alexei and I became friends pretty much immediately.”
Pajitnov said that he had met, prior, with other people, foreigners included who wanted to push Tetris and his impression of Rogers, at first, was he was just another one of them.
“When I knew some new businessman came, I was really bored. (He) wasn’t the first adventurer who was (seeking) Tetris.
“But when I realised that he is a game designer as well, everything changed in my heart,” he laughed.
Unfortunately, getting the rights to Tetris was not as easy as getting Pajinsky’s approval.
Russia kept a tight rein on commerce, with individual rights to invention being unheard of, with IP being pretty much the property of the state.
Besides navigating bureaucratic hurdles, Rogers also had to fight off other competitors, including the infamous Roger Maxwell, the media baron and fraudster.
Fast and very furious
About that car scene, Egerton said it was the most Hollywood aspect of the film but apart from that he himself was amazed that a lot of what was depicted in the Tetris movie actually happened.
“Particularly, my character’s cavalier attitude to going to this part of the world to try to procure the rights to a video game.”
It was a big risk for Rogers but in the end he succeeded in not just getting the rights to put Tetris on handheld devices, he convinced Nintendo that shipping the game, instead of Mario on the first GameBoy, was the right call.
Egerton was also charmed by just how palpable the connection between the main characters were, in real life.
“There’s something very charming about how they kind of connected and formed a very strong friendship over something that’s inherently quite childlike,” he said.
“And they both become quite childlike around one another.”
Being the romantic that he professed to be, Egerton said he found the duo’s closeness to be both appealing and charming.
On the film itself, it can come across as a bit frenzied and in a less capable director’s hand or a lead actor as earnest in his portrayal as Egerton, it could have been a disaster.
While the pacing and beats can be off-kilter, the film still manages to entertain by remaining true to the heart of the story — how a game brought people together.
In a world that feels as though the Cold War has come back full-force, it reminds us that walls and empires fall but some things, like the bonds of friendship and the love of a game can still bring people together.
Tetris will start streaming on Apple TV+ from March 31.
Watch the Tetris film trailer below: