Tetris (film)

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Tetris
Promotional poster
Directed byJon S. Baird
Written byNoah Pink
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyAlwin Küchler
Edited by
Music byLorne Balfe
Production
companies
Distributed byApple TV+
Release dates
  • March 15, 2023 (2023-03-15) (SXSW)
  • March 31, 2023 (2023-03-31) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
Countries
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$80 million[2]

Tetris is a 2023 biographical thriller film based on true events around the race to license and patent the video game Tetris from Russia in the late 1980s during the Cold War. It was directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Noah Pink. The film stars Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, and Anthony Boyle.

Tetris premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 15, 2023, and was released on March 31, by Apple TV+. The film received generally positive reviews from critics.

Plot[edit]

In 1988, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Henk Rogers of Bullet-Proof Software becomes enamored with the game Tetris, created by Soviet programmer Alexey Pajitnov, who works for government-owned ELORG in the Soviet Union. Rogers explains to a bank manager that Robert Stein of Andromeda Software obtained the worldwide licensing rights to Tetris from ELORG and signed a contract with media tycoon Robert Maxwell and his son, Mirrorsoft CEO Kevin Maxwell, allowing them to distribute Tetris in exchange for game royalties. Meanwhile, the Mirrorsoft representative at CES sells Rogers the Tetris rights in Japan for PC, console, and arcade.

Rogers meets with Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi and proposes a partnership to produce Tetris for the Nintendo Famicom and arcade machines. Shortly after beginning production, Rogers receives a call from Kevin, explaining that the arcade rights have already been promised to Sega. Rogers returns to Yamauchi, asking for his residuals in advance. Instead, he is sent to the Nintendo of America headquarters in Seattle, and shown Nintendo's upcoming handheld device, the Game Boy, due to be released with Super Mario Land. Rogers convinces President Minoru Arakawa and General Counsel Howard Lincoln to package it with Tetris instead and promises to obtain the handheld licensing rights.

Rogers travels to meet with the Maxwells in London, who tell him that Stein retains all worldwide licensing rights. Rogers offers Stein $25,000 for the worldwide handheld rights, which he accepts. Later, however, Arakawa and Lincoln call Rogers explaining that Stein has now promised the handheld rights to Atari for $100,000. Rogers decides to travel to Moscow and secure the handheld rights himself.

Upon arrival in Moscow, he hires a young woman named Sasha as his interpreter, and despite her warnings, enters the ELORG offices. On showing a Famicom copy of Tetris to ELORG chairman Nikolai Belikov, Rogers is told that his copy is "illegal," as ELORG has only released the PC rights to Stein and not rights to video game consoles. A meeting is arranged to discuss the rights.

At the first meeting, Rogers meets Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov reluctantly invites Rogers back to his apartment, where they strike up a fast friendship. Rogers helps Pajitnov improve the game's mechanics, and Pajitnov takes Rogers to a nightclub in Moscow. A woman says that Estonia is rebelling against the Soviet Union and that change is coming.

Rogers, Stein, and Kevin each separately meet with Belikov to negotiate the rights. Rogers explains to Belikov that Stein exploited the original contract's language, which did not define a PC, so that he could also sell the rights to video game consoles. Rogers advises Belikov to define a PC as a device with a keyboard, monitor, and disk drive. Belikov drafts a new contract with Stein that increases the ELORG's PC royalties and also includes the definition of a PC. Eager to discuss handheld rights, Stein signs the revised contract without noticing the new language.

Valentin Trifonov, head of the Department of Foreign Trade of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, grows interested in the negotiations and involves the KGB to ensure he can profit from Tetris' potential sales. The KGB threatens Rogers, Pajitnov, and their families. Mirrorsoft offers the rights to distribute its catalog of encyclopedias to ELORG as well as the promise of $1 million cash in exchange for handheld rights to Tetris. Belikov drafts a letter of intent to sell Tetris handheld rights to Mirrorsoft on the condition that the $1 million is received within a week. Pajitnov faxes the letter to Rogers, showing that Mirrorsoft will only obtain the rights to Tetris if they pay by the deadline, which they fail to do. Nintendo tells Rogers that Atari has released their version of Tetris, but Rogers tells them they don't have the rights, and urges Lincoln and Arakawa to come to Moscow.

In a last-ditch effort to obtain the rights, Robert and Kevin Maxwell visit Mikhael Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, to warn him against selling the game to capitalist interests. Gorbachev dismisses their concerns, but on hearing about Trifonov's interest in Tetris, orders his guards to surveil him.

Nintendo offers $5 million to ELORG for console and handheld rights, which ELORG accepts. Lincoln, Arakawa, and Rogers have to leave Moscow with the paperwork to finalize the deal. Maxwell, desperate to stop them, agrees to give Trifonov 50% ownership of Tetris if he can intercept Rogers. After a car chase to the airport, the three board a plane, and Trifonov is arrested by Sasha, revealed as a KGB agent.

Rogers returns to Tokyo, and Tetris releases in the West to huge success. Just before the Soviet Union's collapse, Rogers flies Pajitnov's family to the United States. An epilogue explains that Rogers and Pajitnov went on to start The Tetris Company and remain good friends.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

In July 2020, it was reported that a biopic was being made about the making of Tetris, which would delve into the legal battles that took place during the Cold War over ownership of the game, with Jon S. Baird directing and Taron Egerton cast to portray the game publisher Henk Rogers.[3] Egerton confirmed this report in an August 2020 interview, explaining that the film would mirror a tone similar to The Social Network.[4] In November 2020, Apple TV+ acquired the film.[5]

Filming began in Glasgow in December 2020, including Glasgow Prestwick Airport on the Ayrshire coast.[6] In February 2021, filming took place in Aberdeen at locations including the University of Aberdeen's Zoology Building, which was used as the headquarters of Soviet firm Elorg,[7] and Seamount Court[8] which was used for several scenes. Filming took place for 7 days in and around the former (RAF) military base at Balado in Perth & Kinross; particularly internal scenes for a quasi-military backdrop. Production then returned to Glasgow for a few days, before wrapping in early March 2021.[9][10] Reshoots took place in 2022, and the film's release was planned for later in the year.[11]

In a 2023 interview, Alexey Pajitnov admitted that the film "didn't make an actual biography or an actual recreation of what actually happened", but that was "close enough and very right emotionally and spiritually".[12]

Music[edit]

Release[edit]

The film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 15, 2023.[13] It premiered on Apple TV+ on March 31, 2023.[14] According to a Samba TV research panel of 3.1 million smart television households who tuned in for at least one minute, Tetris drew in 88,000 viewers in its first two days.[15]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 81% of 187 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The website's consensus reads: "While it's nowhere near as addictive or fast-paced as the game, Tetris offers a fun, fizzy account of the story behind an 8-bit classic."[16] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 61 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[17]

Accolades[edit]

Tetris received nominations for Best Music and Best Action/Thriller TrailerByte for a Feature Film at the 2023 Golden Trailer Awards.[18][19] Egerton was nominated for Best Actor at the 6th Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Film Awards.[20]

Lawsuit[edit]

In August 2023, Dan Ackerman,[21] the chief editor of Gizmodo, sued Apple for "illegally copying" his 2016 book The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World. Ackerman is asking the court for monetary damages of $4.8 million, which is 6% of the film's $80 million production budget.[2]

Historical accuracy[edit]

In an interview prior to the film's release, Henk Rogers said that both he and Alexey Pajitnov reviewed the script and made suggestions. However, Rogers noted, "It's a Hollywood script, a movie. It's not about history so a lot of [what's in the movie] never happened." There were events in the movie that did transpire in real life. For instance, Rogers notes that he did convince Nintendo to bundle Tetris in with the Game Boy at launch in place of Super Mario Land. Rogers emphasized that the producers wanted to "capture the darkness and the brooding" that he felt during his time trying to get the rights to Tetris in then-Soviet Russia. He continued, "They tried their best to accept our changes when they had to do with authenticity. But when it started getting into [creative flourishes like] the car chase and all that, it was like 'OK, now it's all them.' We couldn't change anything."[22]

See also[edit]

  • Tetris: The Games People Play: 2016 graphic novel on the same topic
  • More information about his ethnic background, education, career, and Russian adventure can be found in a long interview by Sramana Mitra.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Tetris (15)". BBFC. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b Brittain, Blake (8 August 2023). "Apple's Tetris movie ripped off tech writer's book, lawsuit says". Reuters. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  3. ^ Jennings, Collier (23 July 2020). "Tetris Movie Casts Taron Egerton as Its Lead". Comic Book Resources.
  4. ^ Dean, Jonathan (24 August 2020). "Taron Egerton: 'The Tetris film is more Social Network than Lego Movie!'". British GQ.
  5. ^ Grater, Tom (19 November 2020). "Apple Boards Taron Egerton-Starring 'Tetris' From 'Stan & Ollie' Director Jon S. Baird, 'Rocketman' Producer Matthew Vaughn". Deadline Hollywood.
  6. ^ Williams, Craig (4 December 2020). "Tetris movie begins filming in Glasgow starring Rocketman's Taron Egerton". GlasgowLive.
  7. ^ Cameron, Ewan (20 February 2021). "Hollywood movie Tetris starts filming in Aberdeen with star Taron Egerton". Evening Express. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  8. ^ Durham, Thomas (17 January 2022). "The north-east in the spotlight - here are where some blockbusters were filmed in the north-east". Aberdeen Live. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  9. ^ Haugh, Jack (2 March 2021). "'I couldn't be prouder': Taron Egerton updates fans on Tetris film shot in Glasgow". Glasgow Times. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  10. ^ Jon S. Baird [@jonsbaird] (3 March 2021). "That's a wrap on Tetris. It's been emotional 🎬🎥🥂🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🙏#Tetrismovie" / Twitter" (Tweet). Retrieved 6 March 2021 – via Twitter.
  11. ^ Julia Cunningham (28 June 2022). "Taron Egerton". The Jess Cagle Podcast w/ Julia Cunningham (Podcast). SiriusXM. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  12. ^ Pingitore, Silvia (19 March 2023). "Interview with Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov". Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  13. ^ "Tetris - 2023 Schedule". SXSW. Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  14. ^ "Apple Original Films unveils trailer for 'Tetris,' new thriller starring Taron Egerton" (Press release). Apple TV+. 16 February 2023. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  15. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (26 April 2023). "Chris Evans & Ana de Armas Skydance Spy Action Pic Ghosted Most Watched Debut In Apple TV+ History". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 26 April 2023.
  16. ^ "Tetris". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 5 February 2024. Edit this at Wikidata
  17. ^ "Tetris". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  18. ^ Tinoco, Armando (5 June 2023). "Golden Trailer Awards Nominations List: Stranger Things, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ted Lasso & Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Among Most Nominated". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 5 June 2023. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  19. ^ Pedersen, Erik (29 June 2023). "Golden Trailer Awards: Cocaine Bear, Only Murders In The Building & Oppenheimer Among Top Winners – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 30 June 2023. Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  20. ^ Anderson, Erik (30 June 2023). "Hollywood Critics Association 2023 Midseason HCA Awards: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Past Lives, Air are Top Winners". AwardsWatch. Archived from the original on 1 July 2023. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  21. ^ "Apple TV's 'Tetris' Movie Copied Tech Reporter's Book, Suit Says". Bloomberg Law. 2023.
  22. ^ Munsell, Mike (17 February 2023). "Meet Henk Rogers, video game icon turned climate champion". Canary Media. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  23. ^ "The Story of Tetris: Henk Rogers". Sramana Mitra. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2023.

External links[edit]