Tetris (2023) Movie Review – Not nearly as simple and addictive as its namesake video game

Not nearly as simple and addictive as its namesake video game

For the first few minutes of Tetris, one can see glimpses of immense narrative promise. There are so many exciting elements colliding together in the film’s universe. A crumbling Soviet Union, a media baron’s fall from grace, and a small portable box that changed gaming forever; the ingredients are too good to be true to be falling on the same plate. And not to forget, Tetris the game. That right there is Apple TV’s new film starring Taron Egerton and Nikita Yefremov. There is so much to unpack about not just the subject matter but the political, social, and economic connotations around the game, that Tetris finds it hard to break them down.

Henk Rogers (Egerton) was responsible for discovering Tetris outside the Iron Curtain in the 1980’s. Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov) made an after-work invention at his home but it was not an ordinary video game. It took Russia by storm and the government had to ban it at one point since the people became so addicted.

A shrewd middleman (played by Toby Jones) bought licensing rights for Tetris outside Russia worldwide except Japan. He further sold it to Robert Maxwell, the billionaire media mogul. Henk thought he had struck a goldmine when Nintendo liked the game and made him an exclusive publisher. But as he dug more, his dream kept becoming more elusive by the minute.

First off, Noah Pink must get credit for carving out such compelling issues around the film’s central conceit. They very much are on a spectrum and vary from each other in their nature. Most of the issues we see our characters dealing with and director Jon Baird bring to fruition are not interconnected. But the very nature of these issues is so pressing and fiercely independent that they meddle with the impact created by any single one on its own. Baird keeps reaching to get the perfect block but for some reason, they just do not fall into place.

Perhaps the setting of a television series would have suited Pink’s spectrum of ideas. The longer format seems like the perfect space for Tetris to play out like a slow burn, instead of the rushed effort we get in this film format.

Another issue with the themes is that individually, they are not fully fleshed out in the narrative. Their characterizations miss the mark in being too obvious and simplistic. The depiction of the waning communist spirit of the USSR and growing dissent among the masses is one such instance. As a part of it, what happens to Alexey’s family appears to be more theatrical and does not indulge the viewer emotionally. Valentin’s overbearingly villainous portrayal also plants seeds of doubt over whether the filmmakers are really serious in their intentions.

The crafting of the different threads of the story seems very half-hearted too. More commitment to make them emotionally heavy and meaningful is missing. It makes even the major characters with Rogers’ exception archetypes. One would struggle to see the film and be certain if it is based on a real story or if any of the characters are from real-life.

Since the underlying emotion is related to gaming, Baird and cinematographer Alwin Kuchler also experiment with 8-bit-like visual fluency. Watching those sequences remind one of how Danny Boyle used them in The Beach and Trainspotting. While Baird’s version is a little more fitting in the context, it does not really make much of a difference. Even in its absence, the visual grammar of the film would not have changed.

Egerton and Yefremov are the standouts among the cast though. By comparison, Toby Jones and Roger Allam feel really wasteful as there’s so much promise in their characters that never comes to the foreground.

Tetris might as well pass the litmus test of digital streaming due to its peppy tone and colourful touches. At the same time though, the film fails to meet the high standard of its namesake game and is not nearly as addictive.

 

Read More: Tetris Ending Explained


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  • Verdict - 6/10
    6/10
6/10

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