Add ‘Gran Turismo’ To The Growing List Of Incredible Video Game Adaptations – Review
Some racers get their adrenaline fix through go-karts. Others buy overpriced Chargers and Hellcats. But Gran Turismo is said to be the “most accurate race simulator in the world,” where millions enjoy the extremely popular video game for its exacting commitment to real-world physics, detailed vehicle customization, and faultless interior motor mechanics. So what happens when you put gamer/simulation players behind the wheel?
That’s the central question at the heart of Sony’s Gran Turismo, the new film starring Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Djimon Hounsou, and Orlando Bloom. Based on incredible true events, Gran Turismo tells the unbelievable story of Jann Mardenborough – an aspiring driver who has mastered the PlayStation-exclusive racing simulator while practicing at home. After winning an online competition, Jann gets to train at the Nissan GT Academy in hopes of becoming a professional racer. An amalgamation of behind-the-scenes business movies and underdog sports dramas, Gran Turismo, feels less like a video game movie and more like an enthralling human triumph.
Star Archie Madekwe channels the nimbly courageous gamer inside all of us. His character’s unbridled confidence behind the wheel makes me feel like I could survive a lap or two. Through Jann’s grit and determination, you genuinely root for this young man every step of the way. As such, Madekwe doesn’t shy away from showing the whimsy Jann must’ve felt seeing his dreams come to fruition. When things get heavy, Madekwe demonstrates a level of sensitivity that gives otherwise melodramatic moments an extra layer of authenticity. A couple of moments toward the end fly awfully close to “showy.” But when the film calls for moments of emotional catharsis, they aren’t ignored.
Mardenborough is coached by Jack Slater, played by Stranger Things actor David Harbour. Slater is a retired American racer whose unabashed directness pushes Jann to his fullest potential. Many drivers have difficulty getting on board, resulting in a hilarious training montage that shows how rigorous motorsports can be on one’s body. Harbour steals the show with Jack’s stern toughness and invigorating motivational speeches. By the movie’s end, his character simultaneously discourages you from ever stepping foot in a racecar while encouraging you never to give up.
Academy Award-nominee Neill Blomkamp returns to feature film directing after 2014’s critically divisive Chappie and a string of excellent short films available to stream on Netflix. Alongside getting rousing performances out of Madekwe, Harbour, and Hounsou–who brings an intense yet relatable concerned father questioning his son’s obsession with GT over more practical life choices–Blomkamp never lets his style override the substance. This film doesn’t need his unique eye for blending textured CGI characters into live-action – like Chappie or District 9. Instead, the Elysium director opts for a pristine documentary aesthetic that perfectly represents this semi-merger of reality and fiction.
A self-reported car enthusiast, Blomkamp shoots the frenetic racing sequences without the camera being distractingly shaky. The races themselves are easy to follow – a feat that even Best Picture nominee Ford vs. Ferrari had a hard time accomplishing. The film also benefitted from some dynamite sound mixing, as the loud, bassy roaring of the cars zipping past each other zooms through your body. Screenwriter Zach Baylin cited Top Gun as an influence on this film, and the hard-cut sound effect editing definitely resembles those movies. Having seen it twice, I’m excited to peep again in Dolby Cinema.
Besides the spectacle, the story at Gran Turismo‘s center is beyond riveting. Beginning at a lightning-fast pace, the film creeps slowly into the 3rd act climax. Without spoiling much, Jann Mardenborough’s real-life journey is the definition of “stranger than fiction” in both good and bad ways. For a major blockbuster produced by Sony/PlayStation featuring Nissan logos in several scenes, there’s no way that a corporate, commercial product of the machine would get as real as this movie went. It’s not often that we get a raw, sincere biopic that’s unafraid to get dark. Gran Turismo goes places you wouldn’t expect a video game movie to go.
When reminded of the magnitude and dangers of NASCAR, FS1, or any professional automotive racing league, there’s no wonder why motorsports are massively popular. While football or boxing are physical and violent, there’s rather ever a sense of immediate death around the corner. The same cannot be said for racing, though, where one fatal mistake looms around each lap. Whether or not you’re a diehard fanatic (I only knew of Lewis Hamilton before this movie), you’ll come out of this movie at least Googling “Who is Jann Mardenborough?” After watching Gran Turismo, I truly can’t help but tip my hat to the drivers, coaches, mechanics, technicians, and fans who keep this crazy lifestyle afloat.
This has been a landmark year for video game cinema. In January, we entered the depressingly dystopian zombie hellscape of The Last Of Us in HBO’s phenomenal television adaptation. Families took a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom in Illumination’s Super Mario Bros movie in April. Add Gran Turismo to the list of incredible video game adaptations this year. A high-speed sports epic that knows precisely when to accelerate & slow down its pace. It’s fun and energetic and will keep you on the edge of the passenger seat for an endlessly-thrilling ride.