A True Underdog Movie
For most of cinema history, video game adaptations have not been well-received. Films such as 2005’s Doom, 2007’s Hitman, 2016’s Assassin’s Creed and others obtained universal criticism, while not performing well at the box office. Studios continued trying to crack the code on how to properly adapt this lucrative media into popular film franchises, similar to how comic-book adaptations have conquered the box office.
The state of video game adaptations began to change in recent months, with the release of HBO’s The Last of Us and The Super Mario Bros. Movie. These adaptations showed that video games are ripe for the picking to be turned into acclaimed television series and blockbuster movies – they simply needed the same level of care and respect comic-book films began to receive around the early 2000s. With Sony developing PlayStation Productions, a production company dedicated to adapting their video game franchises for films and television, the promise of receiving quality movies and series was exciting. After the release of 2022’s Uncharted, PlayStation Productions returned with Gran Turismo, showing a new perspective on video game adaptations.
Gran Turismo follows the true story of Jann Mardenborough, an avid video game player with dreams of becoming a professional race car driver. Obsessed with the Gran Turismo game series, Mardenborough gets his chance of living out his dream in a Nissan-sponsored competition that brings together the best game players from around the world to earn the chance to become a professional racer.
The film sees the return of Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, back to major studio filmmaking. The movie stars Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough, with David Harbour and Orlando Bloom in supporting roles.
Caliber Filmmaking Done Right
Director Neill Blomkamp came out of the gates swinging with his debut film, District 9, demonstrating his skills behind the camera, especially with a tight budget. His two follow-up films, Elysium and Chappie, were unable to draw the same praise as his directorial debut but still demonstrated that he had the skills and craft to create exceptional-looking films. Gran Turismo continues to demonstrate what Blomkamp can do behind the camera in immersing audiences into the world of the film.
A stand-out of the film is the blending between the real world and the digital one. Blomkamp is able to incorporate video game elements to flesh out the story, such as putting graphics above the cars during racing scenes to convey information on how well the drivers are doing. These graphics looked like they were pulled straight out of one of the games. The movie also performs some interesting techniques by placing viewers inside the protagonist’s mindset during certain sequences. For example, a racing scene conveys the information that Mardenborough is utilizing his experiences of playing the video game by transitioning from his car within a race to him playing the game in his bedroom, all within what appears to be a single take. The film’s editing is smooth, with transitions staying in line with the video game setting.
Likewise, the film uses drones within the racing scenes that are able to capture those scenes better than previous racing film shots. By using drones, the filmmakers were able to illustrate how chaotic racing can be, while filming superior shots and race sequences. Drones have been utilized in films before, most notably in 2022’s Ambulance and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1, but Gran Turismo shows how typical average movie scenes can be elevated with the help of drones as they are able to maneuver in distinctive ways that capture unique shots.
While the cinematography elevated the film from being an average racing movie, the performances were able to carry the story further. Archie Madekwe as Mardenborough turns the slightly cocky video game nerd into a lovable underdog. His performance demonstrates how Mardenborough is out-of-place in the racing world, but gives all of his effort into showcasing his best self. The movie surprisingly has a few emotional and heart-tugging sequences, with Madekwe revealing the hardships the character experienced. Considering how standard the story is, these scenes could have easily become cheesy, but Madekwe’s performance keeps the audience engaged.
David Harbour and Orlando Bloom lead the supporting cast, with both providing substantial performances. Harbour plays a character similar to other performances he has given, such as Hopper from Stranger Things and Santa Claus from Violent Night. Both characters were hard in the beginning, eventually softening by the end. However, his character provides an emotional anchor for the story and the lead character. Bloom plays a likable businessman douchebag who has streaks of goodness. Other than being an integral aspect of the story, his character adds another humor element that also has moments of redeemability.
Keeping a Trope Alive
The film doesn’t break new ground within the sports genre, but that doesn’t necessarily count against it. While the majority of sports films follow the same rinse-and-repeat storyline, Gran Turismo shows that the repetitive beat sheet still works. While audiences will likely be able to guess where the film will go, a few curve balls are thrown in the mix to keep audiences on their toes. Similarly, the uplifting story is as old as time, with the message of pursuing your dreams no matter what happens still able to resonate with audiences, despite how many times the theme has been used in countless other movies.
The movie does rush through certain plot points while sticking around too long in others. For example, there is a romance woven throughout the story with Mardenborough and his love interest, which ultimately felt more like an afterthought. The movie had the potential of exploring Mardenborough’s sudden rise to fame with his love interest from back home but ultimately doesn’t develop the plot point enough for it to resonate with audiences. Likewise, a large amount of time is spent in the first act with Mardenborough’s parents, showing the dynamic between them, only to forget about them in the second and third acts. While the plot points to Mardenborough’s parents and his love interest receiving little attention, there are a few racing moments that felt too long. While the movie is about racing, with the majority of audiences likely to go into the film wanting to see plenty of fast cars, it could have potentially improved the film by trimming some of these sequences to provide more time with Mardenborough’s other personal relationships.
While Gran Turismo isn’t a perfect film, it far exceeds expectations. Racing films are a dime a dozen, and video game movies have an elongated history of being inferior films, but Gran Turismo was able to outperform both genres to create a crowd-pleasing movie.
Gran Turismo is currently playing in select theaters. The movie opens wide on August 25, 2023.
Gran Turismo Official Trailer
|Mason Kupiainen is a recent Butler University graduate with a degree in Creative Media and Entertainment. His work has been published in Butler Collegiate, The Mall, and Byte BSU. Along with written work, he has a videography portfolio with Indy Blue Video, Byte BSU, and Ball Bearings.|