V.G. Movies #49: Ecstasy Of Order: The Tetris Masters.

[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]


In the world of video games, most people will basically think two countries: U.S. and Japan. So it's pretty interesting that one of the best selling and most popular video games of all time... is Russian. In 1984, Alexey Pajitnov was working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences when he came up with a puzzle video game where every piece consisted of a design of 4 blocks. He mixed together the words tetromino (a geometric shape consisting of four blocks) and tennis (his favorite sport) and, thus... Tetris was born.

Numerous companies bought out the game and sold it for their consoles, though it was really the Nintendo Game Boy that skyrocketed sales of the game (selling over 33 million copies on its system alone). By 1989, half a dozen companies had rights to the game. It won plenty of awards and is still found on "best games of all time" lists all over the world.

Interestingly, whereas many people argue video games "rot the brain," Tetris is actually proven to be good for it. It's been proven that prolonged activity with the game increases cognitive skills and more efficient brain activity throughout the day. Even as little as 30 minutes a day for 3 months can enhance everything from critical thinking skills to reasoning and language.

Over the years, Tetris scores have been collected, particularly by Twin Galaxies (see my King of Kong review for more details on them). And that leads us to the following documentary...


In 1990, Nintendo held the Nintendo World Championships where a boy named Thor Aackerlund (his real name) won first place, had higher scores than anyone else had ever done at that time, and became the face of Nintendo for a short period of time... until he pretty much fell off the map. He declared he reached the impossible Level 30 on more than one occasion--something nobody had ever seen before even once--though there was no video proof of this. Jump ahead through time, and people such as Harry Hong and Jonas Neubauer certainly defeated his records, though nobody ever reached Level 30. So in 2010, Robin Mihara--who came in 3rd against Thor in 1990--sets up the ultimate Tetris Championship in L.A. for the best players in the United States. And he invites the reclusive Thor to begin gaming once again and prove that he has done what he's claimed and that he's still as good as he used to be.

This is pretty much the perfect companion piece to King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It's somewhat similar in style (though it's not really a good vs. evil battle... there's no good guys or bad guys, really). But we follow a handful of the best players leading up to the tournament and then the actual events of the tournament.

What I found particularly fascinating was how Thor was treated or acknowledged throughout. Ironically, he was treated as this mythical being or god amongst men who could do these extraordinary deeds that nobody else could... except there were plenty of doubters that he could actually do it. He's really set up similarly to a Billy Mitchell, but less of a douche and more of this (overly awkward) divinity that once showed up and then just... disappeared from the public eye. So that by the time he actually shows up in the documentary and you hear his side of the story... it's that much more hard-hitting.

Everybody in the doc was pretty likable. What I might have liked more from it is a clear underdog. Outside of Thor, you don't feel ask if there's really one person to openly root for or champion. They're all good players and have relatively average life stories (again, with the exception of Thor). It's just that Thor doesn't show up for quite a ways into the documentary, so outside of introducing these people to us and building up the legend of Thor, it really needed to focus on a few other things to pad out the documentary.

And it does so pretty well. A fascinating section of the film discusses the game's psychological effects on people. Besides the aforementioned increase in brain efficiency, it briefly discusses what's called "The Tetris Effect." This is something that I myself have actually experienced in the past, when I was a Tetris junkie for a while. It's basically when you start seeing the shapes even when you're not actually playing, so you start playing games in your head and even in your dreams. The discussion of why this happens and the game's neurological effects was pretty interesting in and of itself.

Otherwise, there's not much to talk about here. If you like King of Kong, definitely seek this one out. It really does work well with the former. The film does drag for a little in parts, mainly within the first 30 minutes or so, but on the whole it's really good. The documentary actually made me quite anxious while watching all the Tetris games going on, so it really invests you in what's going on. I was pleasantly surprised by this documentary, and Thor's story really is filled with some twists that you might not see coming.

Rating System.
Royale With Cheese

(P.S. This is the second time I've given this score for this project. The first? Yup...  King of Kong.)

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