Taron Egerton, Tetris founders team up for film about the 1980s video game
AUSTIN, TEXAS – Fighting over the rights to a video game is not a story that usually plays out like a spy thriller.
But that is what happens in the movie Tetris, which is based on the true story of how the addictive video game of the same name took the world by storm in the 1980s.
Premiering on Apple TV+ on Friday, the biographical drama follows Netherlands-born entrepreneur Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) as he stumbles across Tetris in 1988 and realises that the simple puzzle game – in which players rotate falling blocks – could be a giant global hit.
So, he goes on a risky journey behind the Iron Curtain to Soviet-era Moscow to try and secure the rights to manufacture and distribute the game.
And he finds himself teaming up with Tetris’ inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to outmanoeuvre hostile Soviet officials and other adversaries.
While in Austin, Texas, for the film’s world premiere, Egerton and the real-life Rogers and Pajitnov spoke to The Straits Times and other press.
They say the dangers that the movie shows Rogers and Pajitnov facing, including threats to their safety, all really happened, especially as shady government officials and Rogers’ unscrupulous British rivals – game developer Robert Stein (Toby Jones) and infamous media tycoon Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) – throw roadblocks in their way.
When Egerton read the script, the Welsh actor “was very keen to dissect what was truth and what was Hollywood”, he says.
“The big set piece at the end of the movie, a car chase, is the biggest embellishment.
“But aside from that, I was amazed to learn that a lot of what is featured in the story did actually happen,” says the 33-year-old, who starred in the Kingsman spy comedies (2014 and 2017) and played singer Elton John in the musical drama Rocketman (2019).
“And I thought the combination of this incredibly recognisable brand and this largely unknown story would make for a good movie.”
Played by Egerton in the movie, Rogers, 69, remembers being clueless and scared when he arrived in Moscow on his daring mission.
One of the main issues was that he had lied and travelled there on a tourist visa – not the right paperwork for marching up to a state-owned organisation and trying to negotiate video game rights.
“I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know who I was going to meet – I just went for it.
“I didn’t know if I was going to end up in a gulag,” Rogers adds, using a slang term for Soviet prison labour camps.
“But it was exciting. When I look back at it, I look at it as an adventure game – I could have taken a wrong turn anywhere and fallen into a pit of lava,” he adds, laughing.
It was Pajitnov who helped him navigate the situation, and the two men ended up becoming close friends and colleagues.
Pajitnov moved to the United States in 1991 and, together with Rogers, went on to co-found The Tetris Company, which still controls global rights to the brand today.
Pajitnov, 67, says Tetris is still his “baby”.
“And it’s great that this movie captured the peak of the life of my game, and that was done very accurately and in a very exciting way.”
Rogers agrees. “What worried me was that it was a great story and somebody would screw it up. And they didn’t, so I’m thrilled.”
Directed by Scottish film-maker Jon S. Baird (Filth, 2013; Stan & Ollie, 2018), the movie is also about the friendship between the two men. Rogers, a game designer himself, worked with Pajitnov to improve Tetris before its worldwide release.
Egerton says: “The thing that’s most interesting about them is they’re from very different worlds with very different ideologies.
“And there’s something very charming about how they connected and formed a strong friendship over something that’s inherently quite childlike.
“Any doubts about that friendship are assuaged by the fact that they are still very close – they still work and spend time together.
“And being the hopeless sentimental romantic that I am, I find that appealing, and I really like that central relationship in the film.”
Tetris premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday.
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