Edit Content

Main Menu

Fonts of Knowledge


Recommended Sites


We are going to beat these capitalists at their own game.




The latest biographical project from producer Matthew Vaughn and personally groomed leading man Taron Egerton – following Eddie the Eagle and Rocketman – qualifies as both more fascinating subject matter than their previous collaborations and conversely an illustration of the perils of “sexing up” the core material. Turning Tetris into a full-blown thriller, rather than relying on the essentials of the story, pushes an initially engrossing little-man tale – even if he’s effectively working for a big Japanese corporate – into the realm of absurd, cliché-strewn spy yarns.

I’m all for having fun with material, such as the way the final car chase employs blocky ’80s computer graphics to punctuate a triumphant Russian rendition of I Need a Hero, but I came away from Tetris pondering how much more engaging a lower-key account might have been (conceptually, and with all the various competing-for-a-claim invested parties, this has been compared to The Social Network). Tetris’ third act ends up sailing closer to the action arena of Atomic Blonde than it does the financial finagling The Founder; with the various villainous luminaries already on hand to lend the tale some natural spice, it really does feel like the least challenging option has been taken with regard to the last couple of “levels”, engendering cheap thrills and payoffs but no lasting impact. 

Jon S Baird previously tackled grim but flashy Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth and well-received but bland late-period biopic Stan & Ollie, while writer Noah Pink has been responsible for selling mass-consumption, curated histories of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso (Genius). The inevitable response to any request for verisimilitude from Tetris, then, is “What did you expect?” Of course, there’s also the question of how much we can rely on the official versions and facts-from-fiction pieces that point out where the movie version goes astray. 

Tetris concerns Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) who – in contrast to the movie version – already had a relationship with Nintendo – he’d developed Go for them, which you see him trying to sell to other regions at the outset – when he stumbled across Tetris at a Vegas electronics show. He promptly snapped up Japanese console and (he thinks) arcade machine rights, but the real rich seam opens up when he’s granted a preview of the all-new Game Boy and suggests it as the device’s with-purchase selling point (because it will appeal to everybody, in contrast to Super Mario Land, regardless of whatever Illumination’s stratospheric Super Mario Bros box office may suggest to the contrary). 

This is where the intrigue really begins, with a web of conflicting interests and cross claims. The Soviet government-owned ELORG holds the ultimate rights, since the game was developed by Nikita Efremov’s employee programmer Alexey Pajitnov (actually, Pajitnov worked for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, who were tentatively selling rights to the game when ELORG found out; they told the Academy they had no authority to negotiate and demanded all paperwork be handed over). Robert Stein (Toby Jones) professes to have bought all the rights and signed a contract with Mirrorsoft – part of Maxwell Communications’ media empire – who in turn dispute Henk and Nintendo’s claims. 

The movie has enough balls in the air as it is – Henk pursuing his deal, Robert (Roger Allam) and Kevin (Anthony Boyle) Maxwell pursuing/strong-arming theirs, Stein struggling to keep abreast, and ELORG’s Nikolai Belikov (Oleg Shtefanko) playing the parties for the best deal, along with a cameo from Robert pal Mikhail Gorbachev (Matthew Marsh) – without the frankly heavy-handed and increasingly tiresome addition of KGB tactics fouling the field. The latter in the form of Igor Grabuzov’s Trifinov, out to secure himself a tasty deal in the face of the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union; there may be a lumpen allusion to the billionaire oligarchs here, but Igor’s tactics and profound hissability render any but the most superficial reading void. Besides, Belikov fits that bill better, since he would turn ELORG into a private business and own half of Tetris. The Maxwell factor alone offers plentiful fodder, but Tetris is content for the broad strokes of prattish silver spooner Kevin putting his foot in it, while any appearance by Robert comes complete with a “Don’t mention the pension scheme” mention, for added subtlety. 

Vaughn’s role as a purveyor of cinematic predictive programming – along with his idiosyncratically well-positioned parentage (not Robert Vaughn’s son, but a wealthy banker and minor member of the aristocracy’s) – is curious in itself, the sort of thing that makes Tetris’ tendency towards inflated cartoon villainy seem like a potentially intentional distraction (rather than simply a case of pursuing lowest-common-denominator box office it won’t have as an Apple TV+ project). His Kingsman series has made enough mentions of depopulation agendas and Elite interrelations that it wouldn’t have been altogether surprising had some insulation that the entire communist project was Hegelian smoke and mirrors been made, its eventual demolition as preplanned as its inception, with the Cold War, in tandem with the nuke lie*, serving to fan the flames along the way. 

Was Tetris part of this, per The Gaming Historian’s The Story Of Tetris, as “a puzzle game that helped break the boundaries between the two super powers?” Which would make it – in the face of the seemingly organic origins of a world-conquering game that just happened to be rustled up within the hallows of a state-owned monopoly, on computer hard- and software, who sanctioned its import and export but did NOT devise it with specific intent (oh no) – responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall. Such suspicion is no more far-fetched than a review of the game at the time, which suggested Tetris was so addictive that one might begin to wonder if it wasn’t “part of a diabolical plot hatched in the Evil Empire to lower worked productivity in the United States”.

In the absence of any such allusions, the most we get is that Maxwell and Gorbachev are chums. That is, bastions of ostensibly opposing ethe. Maxwell has been roundly recognised as an agent of foreign powers, be they Soviet or, most prominently, Israeli. While also managing to be a British Intelligence asset, because that’s the way these things go. It consequently appears that the only reason he came a cropper – well, besides having a terrible rep in the business world – was a conflagration of circumstances. Gorbachev wasn’t in his corner because he had more important matters to attend to. But maybe, even if he hadn’t, Maxwell’s time of usefulness was on the wane, and it was no longer in anyone’s interests to offer support; as it transpired, his empire crumbled post-haste once he was removed from the picture.

You don’t have to be Miles Mathis to be familiar with rumours that Maxwell faked his own death (the difference with Miles is that everyone has. That, and everyone’s a laboriously genealogised “Phoenician”). And if anything, his potential for assigned nefariousness has only grown since his official expiration date, what with his daughter Ghislaine and her partner, one Jeffrey Epstein; it’s been suggested CIA/Mossad intelligence asset Epstein got his fortune started through Bob. All of which makes acquiring Tetris look very much small fry.

And, while Henk seems like a really nice guy, he also started Hawaii-focused Blue Planet Foundation, devoted to Greta’s favourite renewable energy, Blue Planet Energy (“more” environmentally friendly batteries, which just means less unfriendly) and wholesale promotion of the NASA space and the Moon lie. So either Henk’s been drinking the Kool-Aid, or he’s a dyed-in-the-wool propagandist. 

So Tetris occupies the curious territory of failing to making hay from either of its greatest assets. The largely unknown story of Henk Rogers and Tetris is overinflated and thus undercut (and, while I’m not one for leaping on bandwagons claiming whitewashing, casting Egerton, whose performance in and of itself is very winning, as an Indonesian American does merit some grief, not least because I had to check myself that the movie wasn’t set in the 70s; his porn-tache simply doesn’t persuade a decade later, unless it’s for a Burt Reynolds biopic). Meanwhile, the Maxwell subplot opts for slapstick rather than inscribing sinister undertones.  And while the movie makes for a cheerfully unrepentant celebration of the capitalist ethic – even poor Pajitnov, unrecognised, comes out right in the end – any intimations as to the broader canvas behind such market paradigms is beyond Tetris’ ken. Still, for what it is, this is good, disposable popcorn fun.

*Addendum 24/06/23: So, I’ve been chasing the wrong conspiracy with this one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response).  The concomitant threat of mutually assured destruction is another matter, however, since one does not necessarily follow on from the other.

Our Score
Click to Confirm Your Score
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Most Popular

What is currently passing for knowledge around here.

  • I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
    I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
  • Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.
    Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.
  • Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
    Esoterica Now
    Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
  • The Vaccine
    The Q & A
    The Vaccine
  • You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
    You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
  • Dr Kevorkian, I presume?
    Dr Kevorkian, I presume?