‘…a goofy, lightweight narrative…’

Are the streaming wars finally over? New home-entertainment technology created a new tier in film-making; something above tv movies and straight to video, but landing below cinema; that new tier was called streaming, and Netflix and Amazon led the way as disruptors to the existing business model of cinema and ancillary markets. But pouring cash into making films and tv shows that nobody sees can only go on for so long; Apple have had more success with content than most, from best picture winner CODA to beloved sitcom Ted Lasso, but the numbers aren’t stacking the right way for them either; last week, they announced a billion dollar a year investment in new content to be screened in movie theatres, rather than just dumped unwatched on their own website.

Which brings us to Tetris, which bypasses cinemas outside SXSW to stream directly to the lesser-spotted viewers of AppleTV+ from March 31st. It’s a goofy, lightweight narrative that fabricates an elaborate commercial espionage story about the licencing of the game Tetris. While the title Tetris will certainly offer a high recognisability factor for potential viewers, particularly for the Apple brand that cultivated games like Prince of Persia as a way of selling hardware, the result rarely touches on the actual game itself; this is the traditional boastful-boys tall-tale, about getting into dire financial scrapes and emerging triumphant.

Taron Egerton plays game publisher Henk Rogers, who also executive produced his own story here; the conflict comes when Rogers, to the distress of his wife and family, bets his Tokyo house on getting the handheld rights to the Tetris game in the hope of bundling it with the Gameboy system. Rogers flies to Moscow, supposedly as a tourist, but hoping to re-negotiate his deal with the game’s creators; there’s direct competition from the criminal Maxwell family, notably Robert (Roger Allam) and his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle).

Director Jon S Baird slathers the Tetris movie with 8-bit ephemera and interstitials; it’s cheaper than actual establishing shots, with various Scottish locations from Prestwick Airport to Aberdeen’s Zoology building standing in for a Russia characterised by locals pissing in the street. It’s hard to see how having cars change into cartoons during a car chase adds to the intensity of the story like this, but there’s no real authorial voice or stance here, just a re-run through the corporate shenanigans of The Social Network and the tropes of big money solving all personal problems. There’s a few interesting lines about how the original Tetris game-play was shaped, but Noah Pink’s script isn’t interested in gameplay, instead relying on the usual cringe clichés like the father who has to choose between a business meeting and returning home for his daughter’s musical recital.

A few notches above a network tv movie, but with few aspirations to being identified as a film, Tetris typifies the original output of today’s streaming services; it’s loosely formed because its success or failure will be recognisable only to its creator. So Apple joining Disney by moving back into supplying their future direct content to movie theatres leaves Netflix high and dry as the last of the disruptors, still committed to snubbing cinema; we’ll probably make movies about such corporate streaming wars one day, and hopefully we’ll actually go and see them in the cinema if they’re good enough.


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  1. This got a big splash in the papers based on the Tetris idea. I thought it was headed for the cinema. Baird’s previous Stan and Ollie was a small screener masquerading as a cinema film. Oddly enough, there is another Jon Baird, hence the need for this one tio differentiate himself with the “S”.

  2. I just can’t imagine someone going into a meeting and pitching that they’re making a movie about Tetris. (I mean, it sounds like it isn’t actually about Tetris, but still.) Who is the audience for this?! Do the young people even know what Tetris is? I can’t imagine people in their 40s (who were kids when this game came out) would be interested.

    But you’ve identified the bigger issue……making too much crap and just throwing it out into the universe. Hopefully we’re at rock bottom and starting on the way back up.

    • Yup, we’ve had a few years of streaming churning out fanciful product aimed at nobody in particular. But all it does is drain their pockets, and it looks like it ends here…as you say, hard to imagine who would go to the cinema to see a comedy drama about the licensing arrangements for Tetris. Sure, The Social Network was about the crooked birth of Facebook, but that is just a forgotten retro game…I guess I’ll just keep my pilot for a series about the changing small print agreement on Mrs Pac Man Atari cartridges on ice for now…

    • You make a good point about The Social Network, but that was a quality film. So you can take on an outside-the-box topic if you do it right. One suspects Tetris is not of similar quality……

      • It’s so not, it’s not awful, but it’s quite literally in a different world from Fincher. Business isn’t usually enough to support a movie, and chucking in 8 bit graphics from other games and a comedy car chase don’t help. Amazing to think Fincher has never made a film in which a businessman has to decide between a meeting or his daughter’s musical recital. But we know that such cliches come directly from the Bad Moms school of narrative contrivance…

    • It’s one of the last vestiges of the straight to streaming model. Crope is a bit harsh, but it’s also hard to imagine how this kind of project can have any return, and Apple seem to be moving fast to abandon spending millions for a box on their website that hardly anyone clicks…

  3. So, are you declaring major operations over in the streaming wars? I seem to remember a certain US President saying the same thing 10 years before we actually got out of the blasted country.

    I’d be fine if both streamers AND cinema bankrupted themselves into oblivion. But I think they’re learning that fragmentation isn’t as profitable as they thought.

    • Your last line is the correct takeaway. Spending billions making films that nobody outside of your platform knows about cripples any notion of returning a profit. Nobody can afford to subscribe to all new streaming services, so cinema retains its position as the high end platform for new work, accessible without subscription.

  4. Scotland is known for its locals pissing in the street? What are Glasgow’s best streets to piss in?

    I’d heard about this movie but couldn’t figure out what the point of it was. Still can’t. Not going to see it. Nobody getting hit in the balls? No fungal infections? No fun.

    • There is actual pissing in the street featured here, although whether it’s Scottish locals or actors pretending to be Russian, I’m not sure. But you won’t be pissing in our streets, Bunty, or we’ll be coming after you…

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