16 February 2024

Gran Turismo: equal parts feel-good and adrenaline

Gran Turismo isn’t just a video game, it’s a driving simulator. While GT functions like most racing games with a career mode, challenges and a range of cars and tracks, what earns this video game its podium bragging rights is its attention to detail. The champagne of racing games, it was designed for precision, strictly adhering to the laws of physics and modelled on each vehicle’s actual handling through test drives. First released on PlayStation in 1997, this critically acclaimed and realistic simulation enabled players to compete worldwide, which led to it become one of the bestsellers of all-time. 

A film adaptation seemed inevitable, with GT having developed an army of loyal car and racing enthusiasts. While it’s taken more than 25 years for that to happen, the timing makes perfect sense. The Fast and Furious saga is shifting down yet proven a market for piston-pumping actioners many times over. While that runaway blockbuster franchise has literally broken through the stratosphere with Vin Diesel’s head, other video game adaptations like Need for Speed have lit the freeway back on earth. 

Gran Turismo on Showmax
Archie Madekwe stars in Gran Turismo. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

Ironically, most driving and racing simulation games are not character-driven in their attempt to make the player numero uno, which leaves the gull-wing door wide open for story interpretation. Essentially using the game’s format as a framework, it’s important to latch onto the right story to captivate viewers in-between the pristine sheen, burning rubber and low-flying mayhem. To its credit, Gran Turismo‘s patience has been rewarded with the perfect story. While it may seem larger-than-life, it’s based on Jann Mardenborough, a Gran Turismo player turned professional race car driver. 

There are several action films that toy with the idea of video gamers clocking up enough hours to harness the skills required to jump into action in real life. This dates as far back as 1983, in which a hacker unlocks a US military supercomputer and almost triggers World War III in the classic techno-thriller WarGames. The idea of virtual realities serving as a training ground was touched on in The Matrix and has continued to fascinate audiences with the idea that those thousands of immersive hours can convert into skills beyond hand-eye coordination. While first-person shooters equipping people with the necessary skills to blast zombies may be a bit of a stretch, the simulation driver to real driver scenario is more plausible. Maybe because it really happened! 

Archie Madekwe (left) and Jann Mardenborough meeting for the first time at Silverstone
Archie Madekwe (left) and Jann Mardenborough meeting for the first time at Silverstone. Photo by: Darren Cox/Courtesy of Jann Mardenborough

Gran Turismo tracks with Jann Mardenborough, whose winning ways on the digital racing circuits convert to a shot at the big time as a professional driver. Things crank up when Danny Moore’s dream marketing stunt to connect millions of gamers on an emotional level with Nissan’s fleet of vehicles gets the green light. Identifying elite GT racers from across the globe, a racing academy led by tough love engineer Jack Salter sifts the best from the rest as the racing experience crystallises. Coming from a working class family, home pressures mount as Mardenborough proves that his video game prowess could turn into an actual day job and career even.  

Gran Turismo on Showmax
(l to r) Mariano Gonzales, Darren Barnet, Maximilian Mundt, Archie Madekwe, Harki Bhambra and Pepe Barroso Silva star in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

Underdog sports dramas have emotional appeal and soul-stirring energy, which runs deep in Gran Turismo. While very few directors on the planet could even hope to replicate the success story that was District 9, Neill Blomkamp has been living in his feature film’s long shadow for over a decade now. At the helm of Gran Turismo, he wields crisp visuals and pulse-pounding heart with a renewed vigour. The cast has similar aspirations, featuring Orlando Bloom, David Harbour, Djimon Hounsou and introducing Archie Madekwe. Even Geri Halliwell’s inclusion adds a spin, if not some “spice”. 

Gran Turismo on Showmax
Archie Madekwe and David Harbour star in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

Bloom’s heydays were undoubtedly The Lord of the Rings era as Legolas but his presence is always welcome. Hounsou is an underrated talent and team player whose breakthrough role in Amistad happened in the same year as the release of Gran Turismo, the game. Then when it comes to big-name stars, David Harbour has attracted something of a cult following of late with Hellboy and Violent Night. Taking on the role with steely-eyed Michael Shannon meets Mr Miyagi conviction, he reinforces young Archie Madekwe’s lead performance as a counterpoint. A star on the rise, Madekwe is a worthy contender with the real Mardenborough there to offer guidance in more ways than one! 

A roaring guts and glory tale, Gran Turismo will appeal to fans of racing movies like Rush, Need for Speed and Driven. The GT race academy is so perfectly suited to a film adaptation that one wonders if the creators of the marketing stunt had any idea of just how far the concept would travel. Much like the video game, this is a visually striking and exciting movie in the hands of Neill Blomkamp, who brings cinematic flair and finesse to the race sequences. Backed by a cast of underdogs, the same unassuming no-nonsense quality of the pristine video game shines through. 

Gran Turismo on Showmax
Orlando Bloom stars in Columbia Pictures GRAN TURISMO. Photo by: Gordon Timpen

This high octane adventure may not reinvent the wheel but does blend heart and wonder in the surreal immersion of a video gamer turned race driver. The lively undercurrent is heightened by a soundtrack featuring classic rock tracks from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. To balance things out a bit and add dimension to Geri Halliwell’s supporting role is iconic 90s pre-race chill music from Kenny G and Enya. 

Blomkamp turns the fantastical into relatable experiences with breathtaking visuals and a game cast. Defying expectations and rising skepticism, Gran Turismo is a spirited adventure, a personal journey of determination and living your dreams against the odds. Ultimately a fun, spectacular and winsome underdog racing movie, Gran Turismo is equal parts adrenaline and feel-good. 

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