Tetris: The Social Network of Video Game Movies – SXSW 2023

Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in "Tetris," premiering March 31, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Tetris might be a popular computer and video game but the game’s origin is a non-stop thrill ride that nobody could have guessed.

Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) first discovered Tetris back in 1988 during the Consumer Electronics Show. He was hooked immediately and knew it would but popular but there was a question of who held the rights. His journey took him to find the game’s rightsholders in Moscow. This was towards the end of the Cold War, where it especially wasn’t safe for any American to be in the Soviet Union. In any event, he meets with inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) in order to acquire the rights. Tetris had become so popular in the Soviet Union that even government employees lost productivity from playing the game so much. The country had a vested interest in finding the right company–ownership rights work differently–to license Tetris, even if it meant bribery from the KGB and such.

Henk finds that he has competition from both Mirrorsoft–led by Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) as well as Andromeda Software’s Robert Stein (Toby Jones). Add in the KGB and Henk really has to hustle and avoid any trouble. As technology changes, contracts must be very specific. What defines a computer or a video game player? While his rivals might play with government bribery, Henk outplays them at their own game. Above all, it is the newfound friendship between Henk and Alexey that drives the film. Taron Egerton plays the role with the right amount of charm so it’s easy to see why people like Henk.

When it comes to Henk’s rivals, the Maxwell family story is a film just waiting to be made. I mean, when you learn about what happens to Robert Maxwell after the main story comes to an end, it’s a true-crime film in and of itself. He even goes behind the back of his son in order to bribe the KGB if it means getting Tetris rights! They transform Allam for the the role.

There’s some transitions in the film where they play with video game animation. It’s the same picture quality, albeit in HD, as playing 80s era video games. Meanwhile, Lorne Balfe adds his touch by composing the score. Interestingly enough, Balfe provides the scores for two films releasing on March 31 with the other being Paramount and eOne’s Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Stan and Ollie‘s Jon S. Baird really is the perfect filmmaker for this thrilling origin story. Baird and producer Matthew Vaughn come from a background in British independent cinema so they’re on the same wavelengths. It helps the film that Baird grew up with an interest in international politics. Vaughn previously directed Taron Egerton so it’s really no surprise that they reunite on this one.

Baird goes back to his hometown of Aberdeen in Scotland to film Tetris. Filming in Russia was not an option, especially during the pandemic. Surprisingly, locations in Scotland–including Glasgow–are able to double for Japan, the United States, and England, too. But even though Russian filming was off limits, they opt for Russian actors in order to be as authentic in casting as possible.

I grew up playing Tetris on the computer (no Game Boy here) so naturally, this has been a very anticipated film for quite some time. What I didn’t expect was a thrill ride spanning England, America, Japan, and the Soviet Union before its eventual downfall. When I saw Mirrorsoft come up in the film, I knew they were associated with games but didn’t realize they were a division of the same company (Maxwell Communications) behind British tabloid Daily Mirror. If you thought the story behind Facebook was wild, Tetris takes things to the next level and beyond! It just so happens that this thriller takes place during the fall of Communism. I cannot stress the wild ride enough.

What’s really amazing is just how much technology has changed in the span of a few decades. When this film took place, personal computers were still relatively new. Nintendo released their Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 and the world would never be the same. The Gameboy would follow in 1989. Rather than stream TV/movies or play games on cell phones, people would keep themselves entertained during long flights by playing on their Gameboy if they had one.

Tetris is The Social Network of video game movies.

DIRECTOR: Jon S. Baird
CAST: Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, Anthony Boyle, Ben Miles, Ken Yamamura, Igor Grabuzov, Oleg Shtefanko, Ayane Nagabuchi, Rick Yune, with Roger Allam and Toby Jones

Tetris holds its world premiere during the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival in the Headliners program. Apple will release the film on March 31, 2023. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.