Sim racers, now is our moment in the mainstream spotlight. The Gran Turismo movie depicts the true story of gamer turned racing driver Jann Mardenborough. So is it worth the hype?
The Gran Turismo movie is directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame, and it stars David Harbour (Stranger Things, Black Widow) and Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean). If like many people you assumed by the title that it’s just adapting the contents from the games, you’d be so very wrong.
In reality, the Gran Turismo movie follows the story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe, Midsommar). The 19-year old university dropout from Cardiff playing the game in his bedroom who then won a competition. Granting him the dream opportunity of a lifetime: becoming a real life racing driver.
A plot seemingly too farfetched for a mainstream audience to believe, which is why they’re emphasising that true story element. So now the movie has been released, the question becomes if it’s any good. Well we got an early look at it so here are our thoughts on the Gran Turismo movie.
Gran Turismo Movie: The Good
This film is your typical underdog story. It’s to be expected, what with motor racing being an elitist rich boy’s playground and a kid from a middle class background without any prior racing experience infiltrating their airtight world.
The movie starts off with young Jann being given lip by his father (Djimon Hounsou) for lacking any realistic ambition for himself. He works in retail, frequents a gaming lounge and tries to make a meaningful connection with the woman he has feelings for. He’s just the unassuming everyman that viewers can relate to.
The other protagonists are former racing driver turned mechanic Jack Salter (Harbour) and Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Bloom). Salter is despondent from having to work for a pompous driver called Nicolas Capa (Josha Stradowski), so reluctantly agrees to mentor the GT Academy participants.
The heart of this movie is the friendship that develops between Mardenborough and Salter. The latter starts out unconvinced that “scrawny little gamer kids” can become racing drivers, but the belief he develops for Jann makes for a great dynamic. They’re the highlight of the movie. Moore on the other hand is your typical ambitious business guy, and doesn’t really evolve.
Another great thing about the movie is its visuals. The racing scenes get the intensity right, and the incorporating of the game graphics in racing scenes is inspired. It was a stylistic choice for sure but it really added to the substance of the scenes where it was utilised.
The movie is very fast paced, which can be quite jarring at times. It’s already a long film, but with all of the different races that Jann competes in, it flies by. However it never takes too much of an aggressive shift in terms of tone. It always feels natural.
Liberties and Tropes
Now for some of the criticisms that the movie has been receiving. Those who will be familiar with Mardenborough’s journey will notice that this movie has taken a lot of creative liberties with the story in order to recontextualise it in the modern day. It’s to be expected, Polyphony certainly wanted to see the most recent Gran Turismo game being played, whilst Mardenborough in truth qualified for GT Academy on GT5: Prologue.
So they’ve heavily fictionalised elements of the story, which does raise a few questions. For example: the movie attempts to replicate many different tracks with the same venue, which just feels unnecessary for some of the locations. In real life, all GT Academy camps took place at Silverstone, and the movie claims it’s taking place there too. But it’s clearly the Hungaroring, since Silverstone probably asked for an extortionate amount of money to use their track for the movie.
If they’re already fictionalising elements of it, why not have the GT Academy camp actually taking place at the Hungaroring? Or maybe even at the Fuji Speedway in Japan? The latter would certainly make the photo finish in the last race of the camp a bit more believable with its near mile long straight. Speaking of which, let’s talk about tropes.
Gran Turismo is a Hollywood racing movie, so there’s a lot of the overused tropes prevalent in it. Remember Ford V Ferrari/Le Mans 66? Those scenes where Christian Bale’s character is on a straight ebbing and flowing with his opponent, something you never see in motor racing? Yeah that’s also in this movie, although not as blatant.
Plus the aforementioned photo finishes, where the difference between success and failure was down to less than a car’s length at the line. Incidentally, Jann Mardenborough actually won his first ever car race in a photo finish. So maybe that’s not too far removed from reality.
But if these things bother you in movies, then Gran Turismo won’t be an exception.
Going back to the liberties, this movie depicts Mardenborough as the first ever winner when in reality, he was the third in the European edition of the program. But of course, you can’t depict the academy as having two prior success stories because then the journey isn’t as impactful.
Come the end of the movie though, it feels a bit half-hearted as he’s paired up to compete in the 24 hours of Le Mans with two fellow GT Academy finalists. With Mardenborough being the one to have no racing pedigree, the movie claims that the other two drivers have a background in lower level motorsport.
It would have been much better if they had shown (not told) us their experiences racing. Then when they’re revealed at the end to be racing with him at Le Mans, it doesn’t feel like they’re being flung in at the deep end anywhere near as much as it seemed.
In spite of its shortcomings, the Gran Turismo movie is an immensely enjoyable film. Yes it’s derivative and cliché in parts but you can overlook those aspects without needing to “switch your brain off”. It makes up for it in heart and inspiration, and it captures the world of motorsport very well, the two lead characters are truly the best part about the movie as well as the racing and visuals.
But this movie is more than just racing, it’s more than a game, it’s a true hero’s journey and coming of age story. It may be called ‘Gran Turismo’ after the game played by the main character, but in truth, the title is very fitting even without the game factored in. The term is Italian for ‘Grand Tour’, and Mardenborough’s journey in this movie couldn’t have a more apt term applied to it.
The movie isn’t ground breaking, it’s not like 2013’s Rush for example. But it’s still fun, moving, intense and very inspiring. Gran Turismo is in cinemas in most regions now, but will release in the United States on 25 August.
Have you seen the Gran Turismo movie and what did you think of it? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!