|A Gran Turismo player is given the chance to become a professional race car driver thanks to an experimental initiative by Nissan.
|2 hours, 15 minutes
|August 25, 2023
|Jason Hall, Zach Baylin, Alex Tse
|Lorne Balfe, Andrew Kawczynski
|Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom
I have fond memories of the PS1 game, the original Gran Turismo. It was one of the first games that I ever played, and it contributed a lot to my understanding of the various car makes and models. It even introduced me to the art of drifting. Despite not playing it for over a decade, I can still vividly remember how many taps of the D-pad certain turns required, and I still hum Feeder’s “Sweet 16” when driving winding roads in real life. You better believe that I think of this game every time I’m in Bathurst and do a lap around Mount Panorama. This driving simulator turned me into a bit of a car geek for brief period of my life.
Gran Turismo is the quiet achiever of the gaming world. When it comes to the car racing genre, it has seemingly always been there, unchallenged, always offering a superb and unparalleled simulated driving experience. Each iteration offers more cars, more tracks, more modifications, better graphics, and essentially more realism, but otherwise the game is an untouched masterpiece since its first release. The announcement of a new Gran Turismo game may not carry the same excitement as the appearance of a new narrative-based game from a popular franchise, but the brand still holds a sense of prestige.
A mainstay in gaming and for its genre, it’s no surprise that it has garnered a film adaptation. Though it does immediately fall into an oddball category given it’s a driving simulator and doesn’t necessarily have an in-game story. Given the brand’s involvement in the sport in real life, producers have taken the opportunity to adapt the story concerning the foundation of the GT Academy. It begs the question as to what this new film actually is: a biography or an adaptation of the game? Can it be considered a video game movie? Or is Gran Turismo a different beast entirely?
Violence/Scary Images: The film is about professional auto racing and delivers a realistic representation of the sport. Car engines blow, machines fail, cars flip and burn, and there are several crashes involving injuries and a fatality (the death is off screen). There are a lot of tense sequences where the camera follows tight, high-speed manoeuvres.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped once or twice. Other swears are also said on occasion including the s-word.
Drug/Alcohol References: Drinking champagne is seen as a reward, so characters mention abstaining from the drink. However, they drink beer in social contexts. One character becomes too inebriated to drive.
Sexual Content: A character is accused of watching porn, however they are innocent. The film contains a heterosexual romance in which an unmarried couple end up kissing.
Spiritual Content: One particular race is described similarly to a spiritual experience.
Other Negative Content: The film makes light of an incident involving the theft of a car from a family member, negligent driving, and subsequently escaping a police pursuit.
Positive Content: The film contains a lot of respect for motorsports, and includes a message to follow one’s dreams, ignoring those that seek to tear you down. It encourages perseverance and hard work.
When it comes to game adaptations, Gran Turismo has got to be one of the weirdest. Firstly, as one of the characters mentioned in the film, it’s not really a game, but rather a simulation. The entire franchise is renowned for being one of the most realistic driving games on the market, and it has generated a lot of respect over the years for its serious dedication in bringing the sport of racing into people’s homes. There’s no plot to the Gran Turismo games, it’s just a matter of mastering the tracks and vehicles that are expertly rendered from their real-life examples. So, a film adaptation naturally ends up being a straight-up car racing movie. Secondly, unlike many other films based on games, Gran Turismo is in the unique position to offer an actual biography. The movie is based on the early career of Jann Mardenborough.
Gran Turismo’s greatest challenge is not so much in knowing how to adapt the game, but rather how to succeed in producing a decent car racing movie. There have been two exceptional films about the sport over the past decade (Rush and Ford v Ferrari) and another handful that have pushed the limits of cinematography when it comes to capturing car chase sequences on the big screen (Mad Max: Fury Road, Baby Driver, Drive, and the Bad Boys and Transformers franchise). It’s hard to do something new and stand out in this area now, due to films like Ford v Ferrari absolutely nailing their project brief.
Gran Turismo does take a while to get moving. It starts off as your typical “young adult has a dream that no one else believes or supports, and has to go on the Cinderella underdog journey to overcome adversity” story. It’s every low socioeconomic protagonist sport narrative you’ve seen before. The tricky issue with Gran Turismo is that the opposing voices of reason do have a point.
It’s no surprise that Gran Turismo takes a pro-gaming stance. The film inadvertently gives hope to the people that spend copious amounts of time gaming, essentially saying to those viewers to not give up their dreams. There are a lot of gamers, particularly in the younger generation, who would love to turn their gaming hobby into something financially viable, whether that’s a YouTube channel, game testing, or something else in that field, and Gran Turismo feeds into that desire. Yet it fails to remind audiences that Jann Mardenborough’s story is a unique case, and for every successful “Jann” there are millions of others who spent hundreds of hours driving tracks in the game with nothing much to show for it. So, when Jann’s family and peers all doubt his chance of success, comment that his dream is not exactly feasible, and his time can be better spent elsewhere, they do have a point. Pouring hours into gaming hurts more people than it helps, and addiction is real. Yet Gran Turismo isn’t in the position to deliver that reality check given the story it’s portraying.
To soften some parts of the narrative, the movie does commit the storytelling sin of telling and not showing. Supporting characters say that Jann spends hours in his room, playing the game, yet we really don’t see much of that lifestyle. Another flaw is that Jann’s described as being stiff in front of cameras, and essentially not great at interviews, and yet we don’t see much of that side of him either. It’s a nice little character quirk that might have been fun to explore, but Gran Turismo doesn’t deviate much from its route. Instead, it tries to get to the racing sequences as efficiently as possible, though it’s at the expense of the movie developing any sort of flavour along the way.
Yet once Gran Turismo does hit the track, the film finally finds its distinctive voice. The races are gamified, with pole positions illustrated just as they appear in the game, and with optimal racing lines imagined by the characters. One thing that’s sorely missing is a display of each course’s track; maps that are instantly recognizable for players that have spent any time with the game. It’s also disappointing that some of the original music and tunes aren’t given a nod in the score or sound design. That’s not to say the film’s soundtrack is not gripping or otherwise well-suited, just there was a missed opportunity there to pay some extra homage.
If there’s anything that Gran Turismo does well, then it’s how it doesn’t shy away from providing our protagonists setbacks and failures. This is not an easy journey for our characters, and by the end of the film, a great respect is developed for the sport. One particular moment in the story operates as a harsh gut punch where reality sets in, bringing about a key tonal change. It’s an interesting film in regard to stakes. At first they’re not really high—Jann merely competes as he’s always wanted to be involved in racing. Yet soon it shifts from being a personal goal to the simpler objective of finishing each race alive. Every session is a dance with death, and Gran Turismo really hammers in its admiration for those that engage in this sport.
Gran Turismo neatly summarizes an unusual moment in sport history, offering a standard feel-good story that’s highly respectful of everyone involved. If you don’t know about Jann Mardenborough’s career already, then it may be better to go in blind. Stories of this subgenre are typically easy to predict, so it’s enjoyable to experience the odd curveball when it’s thrown in this film, as there aren’t too many throughout the course of its runtime. Otherwise, Gran Turismo delivers what you would expect: an average biographical flick with a few tense driving sequences.
+ Solid feel-good story
+ Race sequences
+ Tense scenes
+ Compelling obstacles for the characters
- Lenient on game addiction and other problematic behaviours
- First half feels generic
- Some missed opportunities to adapt more game elements
The Bottom Line
Gran Turismo offers a decent car racing flick that does its best to bring a driving simulation to the big screen.