Tetris: Better at Blocking Than Air
Directed by Ben Allfeck
Viola Davis, Ben Afflect, Matt Damon, Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman
Directed by Jon S. Baird
Starring Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, Anthony Boyle, Toby Jones and Roger Allam
By Peter Cameron
I don’t know if this is a new genre, or it’s been around a while, or if it’s another desperate attempt to draw an audience, but “films that revolve around a major product from the 80s” is a genre I can get behind.
I was born in ’83. The same year The Police watched every move we made, and McDonald’s unleashed the Chicken McNugget. In ’84, Nike released the Air Jordan, and the sneaker industry was never the same. I’ve never owned a pair—too expensive and I just wasn’t into them—but I thoroughly enjoyed Ben Affleck’s highly nostalgic Air. The script and the soundtrack were slam dunks. Cinematically, however, this film slid its pivot foot. The editing and the aesthetics weren’t on the same level as the storytelling. At times, they were even distracting. If I could describe the cinematic qualities of Air with one word, that word would be: serviceable.
Jon S. Baird’s Tetris, on the other hand, is very cinematic. The lighting, the editing, the framing, and the blocking—it’s all there in this nearly two-hour joyride.
Is Tetris high art? We don’t have to get into that. I just want to make clear that Baird and his team created a film that, cinematically, is far more than serviceable, and a lot of that had to do with the blocking.
Blocking is the arrangement and movement of actors in relation to the camera. In other words, it’s the choreography within the image. It involves the use of space; how close or how far the actor is to the lens. Is the actor huddled in a corner at a distance, or are they up close in a Superman pose? Blocking involves shapes. How are the actors in a scene arranged? Watch a Kurosawa film, and you will notice that his actors tend to be grouped like flocks of birds. In fact, a lot of directors use the triangular shape. It’s an effective visual cue and aesthetic.
Blocking also utilizes lines. Leading lines are the foreshortening effects that draw our attention to a subject. Lines on a wall can lead our eyes to the main character’s face because they are the main focus of the scene. These relationships, the blocking, creates a visual subtext that the audience consciously or unconsciously understands. Tetris has that. Air, not so much.
The blocking in Tetris is brilliant, as are the actors being blocked. I wouldn’t say that Taron Eagerton as Hank Rogers carries the film, but his endless on-screen charm never gets tiring. Toby Jones has a significant role in the story as well, and he’s superb as always. Roger Allman as Robert Maxwell also deserves considerable attention for being so good as an obese “billionaire.” It’s funny how posh, English airs lend themself so well to white collar crime. Don’t sleep on the Russian cast, either. Those comrades killed it.
The story behind Tetris is incredible—almost unbelievable. Who knew so much drama surrounded one of the most harmless sources of entertainment ever invented? Tetris, the game, the one I spent hours playing on my Gameboy, was anything but dangerous. It could certainly make me tense, but I would never describe it as dramatic. The story behind its journey from creation to mass distribution, however, is very dramatic. Don’t worry. I won’t spoil it for you.
When it comes to nostalgia, Air is the winner. One word: soundtrack. Tetris has a solid soundtrack, but they also tried a little too hard for more nostalgia points by adding 8-bit transitions between scenes. It worked in the first act when the tone was light-hearted, but once the story moved behind the Iron Curtain, those transitions felt forced and distracting. And the 8-bit denouement cheapened the story’s resolution, not completely, but just a bit.
I wonder if the shots in Tetris took longer to set up and were therefore more expensive to film? Maybe Affleck was trying to cut costs? Or maybe the look of Air was exactly how Affleck envisioned it. Maybe he said to his DP: “Okay. I’m William Friedkin and this is The French Connection. But with shoes and no shooting.” Making a viewfinder with his fingers, I imagine Affleck saying, “The scene is lit. The actors are ready. Go in there and find your shot. Action!” I’m gonna assume the look was based purely on Affleck’s vision, but I don’t know. All I know is Tetris is a very entertaining film that is also filmed really well.
Anyone who spent way too many hours on a Gameboy trying to align those 8-bit blocks – do yourself a favor and sign up for Apple TV and watch Tetris. That one month of payment after you forget to unsubscribe will be worth it. If you forget to cancel for six months, that’s on you.
On my rating scale, this film sits somewhere between Cinema and Very Cinema.