Sunday, September 10, 2023

Gran Turismo (Film)

While video game to film translations have historically been rocky over the years, especially in live-action, it can be said that more recent efforts such as Pok√©mon: Detective Pikachu and the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog films have figured out how to make it work without sacrificing the spirit of the source material. With that in mind, as the Gran Turismo games have no real plot to speak of, the film adaptation makes up for this by taking a decidedly more unique approach, adapting a story surrounding the events of the games rather than the games themselves, in this case the story of how Jann Mardenborough went from being a Gran Turismo player to a professional racer. I will admit to not playing any of the actual games prior to this film, only being aware of them, however the approach it took made me curious enough to go see it, especially after looking more into what it was based on. While I didn’t really have any expectations going in, the movie turned out way better than I expected, to where I honestly consider it one of the best video game movies out there.

Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) is an expert Gran Turismo player who aspires to one day race professionally despite his father’s (Djimon Hounsou) dissuasion. At the same time, Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) convinces PlayStation executives to found GT Academy in partnership with them, with the idea to give Gran Turismo players the chance to apply their skills in the game into actual racing. Although PlayStation agrees, Danny is given the caveat that he hire a chief engineer to make sure the event is safe, eventually hiring former racer Jack Salter (David Harbour). Following this, Jann is randomly selected as a player to race in an in-game event for the top spot in England, and upon winning is invited to GT Academy.

Having read a little bit about Jann Mardenborough’s story prior to the movie, I was aware of some dramatizations for the sake of the plot, the ones I spotted being that he was actually the third GT Academy winner and that that occurred in 2011 (after Gran Turismo 5 came out on PS3), while this film updates the setting to the modern day and features Gran Turismo 7 (the current iteration as of this writing) and a DualSense.

Even with this knowledge, the plot works on its own as a well-told underdog story, with some genuinely emotional moments and just the right mixture of humor, and as someone unfamiliar with the games, I can confirm that no prior knowledge is required to follow along with it. Of special note are the racing sequences, which present some intense edge-of-your-seat action mixed in with some interesting car engine shots, and can be quite the emotional rollercoaster on their own. The film also incorporates some creative use of game overlays in a way that enhances the experience rather than detract from it, as well as some interesting visual effects that show how Mardenborough views the car in his mind.


Jack Salter (David Harbor, right) serves as Jann Mardenborough's
(Archie Madekwe, left) mentor throughout the film.

All of this is nothing without the strong performances of the actors, with a big standout being David Harbour for being able to seamlessly work comedic moments into his otherwise serious performance as Jack Salter when necessary. Archie Madekwe proves the perfect choice for playing Jann Mardenborough on the character’s emotional journey, with Geri Halliwell and Djimon Hounsou playing the parts of his parents very believably. Interestingly, as stated in the epilogue, Jann Mardenborough himself serves as Madekwe’s stunt double; while Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi, played by Takehiro Hira in the film, cameos in a minor role as a sushi chef while Mardenborough is in Japan for a race.

While it may not end up in the running for awards season, Gran Turismo stands as a fantastic film in its own right that even non-fans will enjoy, thanks to its stellar racing sequences and emotionally-gripping plot, and is one I would wholeheartedly watch again in the future. If you do watch it and end up liking it, it may even make you consider playing one of the games, as it did for me right afterwards.

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