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Review: The Gran Turismo Is Another Step For Motorsport’s Growing Popularity

Written By Maria Gadalla, Edited by Nicola Spingies

Based on the popular racing simulation games comes The Gran Turismo, a two-hour summer blockbuster directed by Neill Blomkamp and based on the unbelievable true story of Jann Mardenborough.

Unbelievable because without the constant “based on a true story” tagline of Sony’s marketing, it would truly be hard to believe that someone went from playing a driving simulation game to driving professionally and competing in races like Le Mans 24 Hours.

This, however, is the very story The Gran Turismo seeks to tell. With added embellishments, of course.

Image credits - Gran Turismo

For example, the two most important figures leading Jann Mardenborough, Danny Moore and Jack Salter (played respectively by Hollywood big names Orlando Bloom and David Harbour), aren’t real people. Although Bloom’s character is ‘based’ on the real Darren Cox, Harbour’s character, the trope of the washed-up coach, isn’t real.

Mardenborough’s main rival, a driver for the team CAPA, isn’t real either. Nor are the two fellow GT Academy simulation drivers who helped Mardenborough score a podium at Le Mans 24 Hours.

This is quite important because the plot’s entire angle of GT Academy drivers winning Le Mans was to prove a larger point about simulation drivers still being good drivers.

Unfortunately, this also shows just how the plot and the dialogue that carries it are the film’s two weakest points.

Firstly, the dialogue can be a little cringy. David Harbour even joked about ChatGPT after mentions of awkward dialogue lines given the ongoing Writer’s Strike. For example, after being called to race, Mardenborough responds with a “let’s go” - which had the guy behind me laughing at the supposedly dramatic moment.

Criticisms of plot and dialogue aside, the film still did well, largely because of how delicately it balances the many elements it was dealing with. The Gran Turismo is classified as a ‘biographical sports drama’, but everyone is talking about the upcoming video game adaptation.

Image credits - Gran Turismo

The Gran Turismo presents the athleticism of being a driver through its many training montages and Harbour’s almost too-obvious explanations of the demands of driving for those with the know-how. Yet, this would all come as a surprise to those who had never really encountered motorsport. They may even be surprised to see Mardenborough almost always covered in a sheen of sweat during the second half of the film.

And above all, it’s the video game aspect lifts the film up and sets it apart. Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography was a key positive as the simulation driving SPX does well to keep the film grounded in its video game roots. There was even a small sequence — the one real ‘car chase’ sequence — that had traditional video game titles appearing on the screen. This prompted much laughter from the audience with the refreshing take on the overdone explosive car scenes we’ve all seen before.

In fact, many car sequences were done in real-time with the “real stakes” David Harbour spoke of in having cars drive 150mph. The paradox of a car video game movie seems more realistic than any car movie released in the past five years and speaks to the film’s success.

It does well to balance it all - the video game nature, the dramatic sporting biography and the motor racing.

In this regard, the film is a success not only for being a good movie but also a marketing dream. Few people walking into the cinemas would actually know about car racing or sim driving. Sony Productions foresaw this and used it to its advantage by promoting both. The diverse audience watching the film with me was comprised of kids with their parents and guys bringing their girlfriends to their choice of date night - but also video game and motor-racing enthusiasts excited to finally watch a good race movie.

Evident by its premiere at the Belgian F1 Grand Prix, the film piqued curiosity and didn’t bore those who already know.

The Gran Turismo is set to premiere 10th August 2023.


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