As a species, we have an unhealthy obsession with cars, from the way they look, feel, drive, turn, and there are those willing to spend time, effort and money to upkeep a vehicle, while others obsess over cars they can never afford, or viewing global races. Some indulge by playing racing games, while there are those who put on a racing movie to focus their attention. And rarely has there been anything that ties the passion for cars all together quite like Gran Turismo.
And we’re talking about the movie here, the latest in a video game adaptation that is as unique as the racing game that it is based on, and the real life events surrounding Jann Mardenborough, a young Gran Turismo player who went on to become a professional race car driver. Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) takes the premise, and turns Gran Turismo into a love note to all things cars, from the young Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe, See) who has played the PlayStation game more times than he can count, and wants to take his time, effort and knowledge of the race simulator, and become an actual race car driver.
Of course, his father, former pro-footballer Steve (Djimon Hounsou, The King’s Man, Shazam!) would prefer his younger son to leave the confines of his room and find a proper job, instead of wistfully thinking that somewhere, somehow, it would be remotely possible that a master of a simulator could possibly translate that virtual knowledge into a real world skill.
What he doesn’t know is that Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) has successfully convinced the Japanese car maker to fund an academy that takes competitive players from the Gran Turismo video game, and offer them an opportunity to become real race car drivers, in which only the champion of this GT Academy would have a shot at a professional career. All he needs is an engineer to lead the pit crew who will train, test and push the candidates from the couch into the driver’s seat, and lead them towards pole position.
If the premise sounds too fantastical, that’s because it probably is, and Blomkamp realises that this is not just an adaptation of yet another video game, but one that, while popular, isn’t as widely known as the Marios, Sonics or Halos out there. Instead, his tale is as much about the video game that inspired Mardenborough, as it is about the young player’s journey, and also about conveying the thrills, excitement and challenges of the race track, much like Ford v Ferrari (2019) did to become one of the most successful racing movies ever made.
In establishing Mardenborough’s skills, the movie goes deep into what the game actually is – a faithful, digital recreation of life behind the racing wheel for those who love cars. For those who have not played the game, the Gran Turismo series emulates the look, performance and handling of a wide selection of real-world license vehicles, allowing players to tune their virtual vehicles based on actual physics and performance, and take them for a spin around faithful reproductions of famous race tracks around the world. Heck, even the sound of the engines in the game are based on recordings made with the actual vehicles, and having this knowledge of the game is what gives Mardenborough an edge over everyone else.
The fact that he wins is not the surprise but after the first act, the film drives home the drama, that the skills, while important, are not the most important as determination and ability. And pushing that is pit chief Jack Salter (David Harbour, Stranger Things, Black Widow), who may be a supporting character in the story, but comes across as the most fleshed out one. Unlike Bloom’s Moore, who is based on the actual creator and director of the real GT Academy, Salter is a new character created to ground the drivers and the story, because in no way is the movie saying that virtual knowledge is the same as actual experience.
He might come across as somewhat of an ass trying to beat down on gamers believing they can be actual racers, but he represents us, the audience, and the journey he takes to train the lot of players also convinces viewers that there’s a possibility that this might work, and as we follow the camera behind the wheel and onto the race tracks, we get a sense of how the various cars perform in each race. Every time he’s on screen, he speaks to the audience and when he channels his no-nonsense approach to racing and safety, we feel the energy and passion he has, which the other characters in the film don’t exactly help to generate.
Blomkamp also takes the opportunity to inject some video game visuals into film, from giving audiences a sense of how gamers must feel when they get behind the wheel of the video game and in a car,and the race line that any player of a race simulator would be very familiar with. He knows when to speed up and slow down during precise moments in this 2 hour and 14 minute movie and while there is a slow start in establishing the premise, the rest of the movie is a controlled lap that drives the movie ahead into the finish line.
Is Mardenborough the best of the lot? He can, but he doesn’t have to be because that’s not the point of the movie. Having navigated into the driver’s seat, the movie succeeds in making us feel the thrill of the race, as we burn rubber and tear across the track trying to stay ahead of the other vehicles. This deft balance of actual racing, human drama and adapting a video game, and having it all come together in a consistent manner makes this not only one of the best video game adaptations out there, but also one of the best racing movies ever created.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
You don’t have to love the sport or video games to appreciate Gran Turismo. Yes, there is a certain formula to this, but the team worked hard to deliver one of the best video game movies about racing, based on a race simulator that gave millions of players the chance to get close to racing.
Story - 9/10
Direction - 9.5/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9.5/10