The Weekly Watchlist: Tetris Dramatizes A Thrilling Heist Based On Video Game History
(Welcome to The Weekly Watchlist, a feature where we program everything you need to stream this week. In this edition: "Tetris" takes center stage, but we also offer up some video game behind-the-scenes documentaries and the best video game adaptation to stream.)
The Movie: "Tetris"
Where You Can Stream It: AppleTV+
The Pitch: People are getting tired of video game adaptations that faithfully recreate games and translate gameplay into TV or film. Forget "The Last of Us," or "Castlevania," it's time to give the people what they want — a movie about the acquisition of the handheld console rights to "Tetris." That's right, the movie "Tetris" finally tells the thrilling, unbelievable story of how one guy went to Russia right before the collapse of the Soviet Union and managed to untangle a web of indecipherable licensing agreements, leading to one of the biggest video games in history.
Why It's Essential Viewing: Somehow, "Tetris" manages to be a thrilling heist story, one that director Jon S. Baird delivers with a huge love of gaming, using the language of games to tell the story — think characters presented as players, arcs as levels, and so on. It is a crowd-pleasing story about a man betting everything on art, and then doing everything he can do to make sure the world gets to experience said art, even if it puts him in danger. Taron Egerton delivers another grounded performance as a lovable fool with a big dream, and he carries the whole film on his back, turning the business talk and the game-developing talk into exhilarating bursts of passion for games that are quite entertaining to follow. If you want to see a slightly different kind of video game movie, "Tetris" shows that reality can be stranger than fiction.
"Tetris" will be released on AppleTV+ on March 31, 2023.
The Series: "High Score"
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: This docu-series explores the history of video games, focusing on their heyday in the '80s and '90s as the industry saw several revolutionary changes every couple of years by covering the rise and fall of arcades, the introduction of home consoles, and the controversies about violence and the creation of 3D games. Featuring interviews with some of the biggest pioneers in gaming, key players in the console wars, as well as some lesser-known people involved in making your favorite games.
Why It's Essential Viewing: This is an extensive look at some of the biggest moments in the history of video games, and it is very clear creator France Costrel and her team have a huge love of video games, and an understanding of what games mean to people. At its best, "High Score" focuses not just on the big names people might already be familiar with, but it shines a light on people who were impacted by games, like champions of different video game contests across the '80s, or players Nintendo hired to handle a hotline to help guide players through hard levels of a video game. Likewise, as our own Ethan Anderton noted in his review, "the series really takes off when it shares the spotlight with some of the lesser-known pioneers who haven't gotten much glory for their contributions to the industry," like people of color and queer developments whose contributions never had their proper due, until now.
The Movie: "Console Wars"
Where You Can Stream It: Paramount+
The Pitch: In the '90s, there were no two bigger names in gaming than Nintendo and Sega. They dominated the industry during the 16-bit era, both in the arcade side of things and in the rising home console market. This led to a massive marketing war full of trickery and chess moves worthy of "The Queen's Gambit." Before PlayStation and Xbox, there was the SEGA Genesis and the Nintendo Entertainment System, and this movie chronicles the imaginative ways gaming dominated most kids' lives in the '90s.
Why It's Essential Viewing: After you see "High Score," which does briefly cover the Console Wars, this is the perfect documentary to watch. With more time to cover specifics, "Console Wars" really gets into the nitty-gritty of Sega's innovative marketing strategies and how they started as a little gaming company, a David trying to take down Nintendo's Goliath. Like "Tetris," this movie is about the real behind-the-scenes stuff, about the deals and the schemes behind your favorite games, and like the former, "Console Wars" manages to make corporate talk thrilling and fun.
The Series: "Arcane"
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: So, you've seen a broad strokes look at the early history of games, a deeper look at the first gaming console war, and the start of the modern era of gaming. So, to cap things off, let's do something different. Why not watch the single best video game series to date? "Arcane" may not be a one-for-one recreation of "League of Legends," but it tells the origin story of some of your favorite characters as we follow the story of two sisters on opposite sides of a conflict between a utopian city and its oppressed underbelly as the world is changed by the discovery of arcane technology.
Why It's Essential Viewing: "Arcane" is one of the most beautiful-looking TV shows ever made, regardless of medium or genre. Studio Fortiche pulls out all the stops in realizing the world of Piltover, in making its streets come alive, its characters feel real, and the action looks absolutely stunning and cinematic. Episode seven, particularly the fight between Echo and Jinx, is a masterclass in visual storytelling, with an eye for visual composition, camera angles, and lighting that is unparalleled in TV animation, and even most live-action shows. But this is not just a pretty show, it is also a complex and nuanced story set in an expansive world with an intricate mythology we see slowly unravel before our eyes. By the time the first season ends, you know there are plenty more stories happening just off-camera, waiting to be told.
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