The Curator of Schlock #414: Tetris

The Revenging Manta, the ninja vigilante of downtown Orlando, and I were outside the Museum of Schlock, trying to figure out the best way inside. He figured I knew the place inside and out, but it had been over two years since I last presided over the residence as Curator. Since then I had dealt with a pandemic, bloodthirsty vampires, deadly street fights, a Canadian slaughtering cult, and a chupacabra. I then recalled a secret passageway into the building on the far wall of the Starcrash exhibit. — To be continued.


Tonight’s movie is 2023’s Tetris from director Jon S. Baird. I know what you’re thinking? Someone made a Tetris movie? I imagined two hours of some guy playing the old NES game in a darkened room before keeling over due to dehydration. Instead, we get a Cold War thriller about a scrappy video game programmer trying to get the rights to sell Tetris outside the Soviet Union.

Everyone knows about Tetris. It was the video game of 1989. I had Tetris. It came with the GameBoy. Granted, my childhood desire for the GameBoy had more to do with wanting a Nintendo Entertainment System I could carry around with me. Little did I know that the fight to get this world renowned puzzle game into my hands was fraught with seedy business transactions and international intrigue.

The movie stars Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers, founder of Bullet-Proof Software. He’s a Dutch video game designer living in Japan when Nintendo was ruling the video game world with the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Rogers is trying to get investors interested in his video version of the classic Japanese board game Go. No one cares and even his secretary has disappeared. She’s fixated on a game at another booth, a game called Tetris.

Tetris is the creation of Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), a genius Russian programmer that created the falling block puzzle game on a computer with no graphics card. He had to make the puzzle pieces out brackets. Rogers becomes obsessed with the game and wants Bullet Proof Software to acquire exclusive rights to distribute the game in Japan. He buys the arcade, computer, and video game console rights from the Tetris vendor in Vegas. Back in Japan, Rogers sneaks into Nintendo’s headquarters and surprises Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi with a demo of Tetris running on NES hardware. Yamauchi says, “Not bad.” after playing a round of the puzzle game which was high praise coming from him.

Unfortunately, Rogers has run into a snag when he finds out the arcade rights to Tetris have already been promised to Sega, Nintendo’s chief rival in Japan. To get to the bottom of this, Rogers flies to the Soviet Union to talk to the head of Elorg, the government institution which is not a company because companies don’t exist in the Soviet Union.  Turns out the head of ELORG never licensed the video game rights to Tetris, only personal computer rights. The KGB show up telling Rogers to leave the country. 

Rogers put his house up as collateral and is worried he’ll lose everything. He goes back to President Yamauchi, asking him for an advance on future Tetris profits. Yamauchi can’t do that, but instead flies Rogers out to Redmond, Washington to see a secret Nintendo project. That turns out to be the GameBoy, Nintendo’s first portable game console. Rogers now has a new avenue for profit, handheld rights. He even convinces Nintendo of America to include Tetris with every GameBoy sold. He just needs to get the handheld rights. 

Rogers has to deal with a corrupt rival software company named Mirrorsoft and sinister KGB agents all while trying to convince Alexey Pajitnov and the other members of ELORG that he can be trusted. Even Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev weighs in on the Tetris dispute. Tetris is a fascinating look at one of the most complicated intellectual property rights transactions in human history. Not to be missed. 


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, episode 477episode 491episode 492, episode 493episode 495episode 496episode 545episode 546episode 547episode 548, and episode 549) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

One response to “The Curator of Schlock #414: Tetris”

  1. This sounds great, and it’s Curator approved!

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