The Tetris Company
It’s official: we’ve reached the final frontier of video game adaptations. A Tetris movie is in the works!
Threshold Entertainment, the studio behind the two late ’90s Mortal Kombat movies, are teaming with The Tetris Company (a gaming company that deals exclusively in Tetris) to bring us a feature film based on little blocks that fall into a neatly-stacked rectangular pile. Why? Because branding.
“Brands are the new stars of Hollywood,” Threshold CEO Larry Kasanoff, told the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog. He’s right, of course. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be getting a Marshmallow Peeps movie. Or a View-Master movie (although that one didn’t last song). Or any other toy/game/sumptuous marshmallowy snack treat that has no discernible film-like properties but is being made because people recognize the name.
Same goes for Tetris. Kasanoff is quick to assure us that there’s already a story in place that will cleverly take the few recognizable concepts from Tetris – I’m assuming this comes down to three factors, the shapes, the act of sorting the shapes as they fall and the song – and weave them into “a very big, epic sci-fi movie.” With an emphasis on creativity, as Kasanoff argues: “We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes.” Although there’s something to be said for the “shapes with feet” idea. Think about a low-budget horror pic with giant Tetris pieces sporting obvious guy-in-a-suit legs, crushing horny teenagers to death as they foolishly get stuck in a slow-moving Tetris block pileup. Could be brilliant.
But with Tetris, filmmakers have pushed past an important boundary. No longer do we need to make adaptations from properties with some modicum of movie material – stories, characters, settings or any kind of recognizable conflict (well, conflict beyond the need for that one straight line block that just won’t come). All we need is a name. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few other games with just as much movie in them as Tetris (that is, none), and speculate what their adaptations might be like.
Yes, Pong is digital ping pong. But it’s digital ping pong reduced to its basest, most abstract form – two lines, a dot and a row of dots down the middle. There’s no reason a Pong movie should be beholden to the table tennis. In the 40-plus years since its birth, Pong has become its own thing (when you read the word “Pong”, do you think nets and little red paddles, or watching a dot crawl across the screen just to “bip” back in the other direction?). A film adaptation should cherish that.
So let’s set Pong in, oh, the year 2686, and change the paddles to a neat paddle-shaped spacecraft – say, a Personally Operated Neutron Glider, or something to that effect. Create some intergalactic tournament where challengers have to bounce a deadly sphere of energy off their PONGs and towards an opponent, put an underdog in the pilot seat and the fate of the universe at stake. Surely, someone out there would be willing to throw $40M or so at this one.
Breakout has a strong Pong influence but is entirely its own entity. Start with one paddle and another dot-ball. Bounce that ball at an arrangement of bricklike blocks on the opposite end of the screen. Every block struck is a block destroyed. Keep going until every block is gone (or until shameful defeat has claimed you).
Miraculously, this would not be the first time someone has tried to twist “bounce block into brick” into a narrative form. In the early ’80s, Atari turned Breakout into a read-along picture book (a piece of kid lit packaged with an LP of someone reading the book out loud). Their version had an astronaut named John Stewart Chang returning from a Jupiter mining mission, only to be trapped by a giant colorful force field that may or may not resemble a pane of Breakout bricks. But Chang only has three missiles left, so he must use them wisely, bouncing them between this alien force field and the hull of his own ship.
There was also a short film made a few years back, where Breakout became some kind of future-racquetball from Hell, but Atari’s own take is just goofily inventive enough to work.
A 1994 Russian computer game, Shariki is known by many a name: Bejeweled. Candy Crush. Puzzle Quest. Tetris Attack (Threshold might want to keep this in mind for a sequel). And all of them play virtually the same, having you start out with a grid of colored spheres/jewels/candies and swap two adjacent pieces to form a line of at least three in a row. Then the matched pieces disintegrate, causing new ones to fall and fill their place.
Obviously, we’ll need a believable reason why three somethings in a row would react with one another, so let’s say they’re explosives, left in a massive minefield by some kind of lost alien civilization (early video games, with their abstract shapes and bleep bloop aesthetics, tend to pair well with science fiction, don’t you think?). Only by clicking the bombs together in groups of three or more can our hero make it out of this hellish maze.
Or you could do Candy Crush and have the hero happily chomp his/her way out of a sugary candied hellhole. Both good.
Have any other totally non-adaptable games you’d like to see adapted?