Relentless building-block puzzle Tetris, perhaps the most popular videogame ever created, gets “King of Kong”-style treatment in “Ecstasy of Order.” Lacking that earlier film’s more colorful personality clashes and stronger narrative tension, Adam Cornelius’ amiable docu about a Los Angeles tournament between some of the world’s best players looks likely to access fans via smallscreen formats rather than theatrical release.
Robin Mihara is a Portland, Ore., resident whose obsession with the pastime is cleverly illustrated by animation of “the Tetris Effect” (an actual condition where players see Tetris forms in their dreams or in mild waking hallucinations). Pic offers background about the game’s origins (invented by a Russian computer scientist in 1984) and explains the rules, but its main focus is on those top scorers whom Mihara invites to the L.A. tourney. Most of these are ordinary folks — self-confessed nerds who are good-natured competitors (and far from poor losers).
A modicum of suspense develops over whether elusive game legend Thor Aackerlund — said to have made the “impossible” leap to the game’s 30th level — will surface publicly after years of family hardship and hard feelings toward Nintendo.
When contestants finally meet, rooting interest is arguably stolen by Dana Wilcox, an easygoing, platinum-haired lesbian from Oakland, Calif., who’s hitherto played in such isolation she didn’t even know about some basic maneuvers until Mihara paid a visit. (Nonetheless, her scores are sky-high.)
But then everyone here is affable enough, and the lack of much drama is exacerbated by the fact that the climactic showdown (onstage in a small auditorium) doesn’t raise much of a pulse. Pic might have mixed it up a bit by dipping into the long history of legal wrangles Tetris engendered once it started being commercially marketed, or briefly chronicling past competitions around the globe.
Nonetheless, “Ecstasy of Order” will delight fans of the highly addictive game, and provide mild amusement for others. Soundtrack of deliberately tacky videogame-style original electronic music is a plus.