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Hollywood, Bereft of Ideas, Turns to Videogame Tetris

Hollywood, which has been increasingly leaning on the video game world for story ideas, might be getting a bit desperate.

Threshold Entertainment has announced plans to develop a feature film based on Tetris, the shape matching arcade game that took the world by storm 30 years ago. And while the game itself might have been a bit light on plot, that's not stopping filmmakers from re-imagining it as a science fiction blockbuster.

No, really!

"Everyone knows that Tetris is one of the best known, most beloved brands in the world," said Larry Kasanoff, chairman of Threshold, in a statement. "What everyone doesn't know yet is this epic sci-fi story that we're going to tell. That's what's really exciting."

The game, if nothing else, certainly has a built-in audience. It has been played on over 50 gaming platforms in over 185 countries—and sold over 425 million copies on mobile devices. Tetris Battle, a Facebook version of the game, has been played more than 20 billion times.

A film, though, might seem a bit of a stretch—despite the reassurances of Henk Rogers, managing director of The Tetris Company.

"In this new universe, as you'll soon find out, there's much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines," he said.

Tetris is just the latest game to be wooed by Hollywood studios in recent years. David Heyman, who produced the Harry Potter movies as well as last year's hit "Gravity," has signed on to oversee a film version of the "Temple Run" app. And developer Rovio is making its own "Angry Birds" film in conjunction with Sony.

Also in various stages of development are cinematic versions of "Assassin's Creed," "Tomb Raider," "Rampage" (which, like Tetris, is another arcade classic), and "Mortal Kombat."

That "Mortal Kombat" film is not to be confused with the 1995 version or its 1997 sequel—both of which, coincidentally, were produced by Threshold.

What's behind the big push of video game films? It comes down to a few things. The properties have enormous built-in audiences, which studios hope to leverage while cutting down on their marketing costs. Many also come with deep worlds that can be explored beyond what the player has experienced on screen.

They often fizzle, but when they work, they can be big hits. The "Resident Evil" films have made Constantin Film AG nearly $1 billion. And 2010's "Prince of Persia" grossed $335.2 million for Disney.

Still picturing a big screen "Tetris" is a bit of a challenge—even for fans of the game. After all, what's next? "Pong"?

BY CHRIS MORRIS, The Fiscal Times

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