In an early scene in the weird-to-comprehend mix of video-game-and-real-life story adaptation Gran Turismo (GT), Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) lays down a key fact to his future girlfriend Audrey (Maeve Courtier-Lilley) when they talk about his mad fixation with racing video games.
He tells her, with utmost unbeguiled sincerity, that he is not playing racing games — they’re called “racing simulators.”
This little tidbit comes into play more than once in this unexpectedly refreshing cross-breed adaptation directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium), based on the screenplay by Jason Hall and Zach Baylin that expands upon the story by Hall and Alex Tse.
Gran Turismo — or GT — if one has been living under a rock, is an immensely popular video-game series that has sold over 90 million copies since 1997. The game gives you deep access to under-the-hood refinements — which, of course, help customise one’s races; purportedly, the feel one gets from playing GT comes in handy in real-life racing. Who woulda figured!
Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, based on the popular video-game series, sticks to the premise,which is a rare small win in today’s Hollywood
Now, one might find common ground in adapting games that come with a narrative hook or memorable characters — take Need for Speed, Max Payne, Prince of Persia or Assassins Creed as examples — but what does one do in the case of racing simulators? As it turns out, one need only look at life itself for inspiration.
The story in GT starts with a mad pitch to investors: what if Nissan puts an exceptional Gran Turismo player behind the wheel of a formula one car.
Jann’s story actually happened — he was inducted into GT Academy, the marketing ploy that eventually launched his racing career — but being oblivious to this news actually adds to the thrill of the film’s experience.
Blomkamp, who shot to fame with the Peter Jackson-produced low-budget science-fiction District 9 — which became an eye-opener for its approach to visual effects — hadn’t displayed the wherewithal to hold any of his films together storytelling-wise after the first 20 minutes, until GT.
GT is talky, but not quite as much. We’re given bullet-point but sufficient introductions to Jann, his family, the maverick mechanic Jack Salter (David Harbour) and Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), the marketing executive from Nissan.
Further delvings would have turned this admittedly game-centric film into an authentic biopic. The decision would have been catastrophic, because we’re not watching Ford Vs Ferrari or Rush.
While the plot doesn’t indulge in excessive melodrama (or even drama for that matter), one cannot criticise the acting or the casting. Madekwe, Harbor and Bloom — though in a wasted role — are as professional and sincere as any actor. The film also stars the immediately recognisable Djimon Hounsou as Jann’s dad, and the unrecognisable Geri Halliwell — Ginger Spice from the ’90s popular girl-group Spice Girls — as his mum.
The balance is perfect in Blomkamp’s film. We see enough of the races to feel that they matter. Unlike the races, there is an excessive mix of stylised and photo-realistic visual effects — however, unlike most dumb blockbusters that are laden with laughable in-your-face VFX, the ones in GT support the slickness of the premise. In today’s Hollywood, sticking to the premise is a rarity, so cherish this small win.
Gran Turismo is released by Columbia Pictures and is rated PG-13. The film is exhilarating; thoroughly recommended
Published in Dawn, ICON, September 10th, 2023