Films inspired by pivotal moments in the tech industry aren’t exactly new: Aaron Sorkin wrung dramatic tension out of the invention of Facebook with The Social Network and the life and career of the Apple founder in Steve Jobs, while WeCrashed chronicled the cult of personality that can often form in overly-hyped startups. Movies and TV shows based on video games are an even longer-running tradition, from Tomb Raider to Angry Birds to the recent prestige TV smash The Last of Us. Even those little smiley faces got their own moment in The Emoji Movie.
So it was perhaps only a matter of time before one of the most simple-yet-addictive games of all time, Tetris, got a feature film.
Starring Taron Egerton, the AppleTV+ original movie Tetris is based on the true story of the game’s origins in Soviet Russia, and the stranger-than-fiction chain of events which led to its worldwide domination.
The true story of Tetris
Tetris was originally invented by Russian engineer Alexey Pajitnov (played by Nikita Yefremov in the movie) in 1984, on an Elektronika 64, at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union in the USSR. Once the game was made available on PC, it became hugely popular in Russia. However, due to the political situation of the time, it took some time for the game to make it across the Iron Curtain.
In 1988, American video game designer Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) came across a demo for the highly addictive game at a trade show in Las Vegas, and he immediately made it his mission to acquire the licensing rights for Tetris outside of Russia. What follows is a tale of intrigue and subterfuge, as Rogers and Pajitnov work together to make Tetris a global phenomenon.
“For me, it was less about the game itself and more about the struggle for the game, and the time period and the era it was set in,” director Jon S. Baird told The Big Issue. “I was a politics graduate, and was very aware of this time, when the Berlin Wall was falling, and the Cold War was coming to an end and you had Gorbachev and perestroika and everything. I remember it vividly. When I first got the script, it was not called Tetris, it was called Falling Blocs – a play on the words for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. So that was the element that interested me.”
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Tetris is now streaming on AppleTV+.
Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV.
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