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Tetris

Year: 2023
Production Co: AI Film
Director: John S Baird
Writer: Noah Pink
Cast: Taron Edgerton, Toby Jones

Might this be the movie I heard was in development a couple of years back based on the titular game? I thought it was going to be a story set in the world of the game, and (like anyone else who heard about it) wondered if any screenwriter in Hollywood was talented enough to make a 90 minute action adventure based around falling lines of bricks.

Instead, it's the ostensible story of how Tetris became a global phenomenon in the late 80s and early 90s. Is it the true story? I don't think even the producers would try to claim it happened very much like this, so you have to be prepared for some creative liberties.

And as much as I wanted to buy into the nick-of-time intrigue and the dramatic thrills of everything being on the line, I got the feeling it stretched what was probably a very prosaic story about people signing contracts as far as it could, and the result still isn't terribly exciting.

We all know true life is seldom this filled with danger or excitement anyway (look at the true story behind Argo – there was no heart-in-throat moment of the Iranian authorities speeding down the runway trying to stop the plane taking off), and in this case, the machinations of bringing Tetris to the west are even less thrilling.

You can see the potential – it was indeed created by a bored computer scientist in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, so it was always going to be a hairy proposition bringing it to American and European players.

But when it's over you realise you haven't really seen anything apart from men flying back and forth to make deals and argue over rights.

There's the protagonist Henk Rogers (Taron Edgerton, who's always so articulate and effusive in interviews I'll watch anything he's in), who sees the game at 1988's CES in Las Vegas and becomes determined to buy the rights.

There's the brass at Nintendo, who Henk tries to engineer an agreement with, which would give him the biggest possible audience. There's a possibly dodgy Eastern European technology entrepreneur (Toby Jones).

There's British media magnate Robert Maxwell and his snivelling son Kevin, head of software publisher Mirrorsoft, trying to get their own slice even while – to Maxwell's full knowledge – pension fund fraud is in the throes if sinking the entire empire.

And there's the Russian state owned monopoly company ELORG, through which all software and computer services come into or leave the USSR, with the full oversight and often interference of the KGB.

Rogers is the hero of the tale, running back and forth between his home and lovely family in Japan, corporate meeting rooms in London and Seattle and the fearsome ELORG headquarters in Moscow, all with a cadre of scary KGB spooks watching over everything, including the put-upon programmer who made Tetris in the first place.

He, the Maxwells, the ELORG managers and everyone else schmooze and argue over who has the rights to console, arcade and handheld systems (the creation and release of the the Gameboy is imminent, which as history showed gave the game a huge shot in the arm) and in which territory.

In doing so the whole thing a mess of handshake deals, double crosses, desperate dashes across the world to iron out details and despite the script wanting it to be kind of a thriller, it's what you'd expect CEOs, lawyers and accountants arguing over rights would look.

Everyone's great in it, there's just not much there to begin with, and the odd animated visual of Tetris pieces falling through the frame to give the proceedings a bit of zing only serves to remind you of how little there is to actually look at.

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