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Gran Turismo review: Neill Blomkamp’s love letter to motorsport!

Gran Turismo is the latest PlayStation Studios IP to be adapted into live-action. But unlike Uncharted in 2022, the film offers a unique spin on the famous racing simulation video game

Gran Turismo review: Neill Blomkamp’s love letter to motorsport!

Last Updated: 04.55 PM, Aug 25, 2023


Story: The film is a biopic on the former eSports Gran Turismo champion, Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who would go on to become a professional race car driver after winning a tournament hosted by Nissan and Gran Turismo, with over 200 races under his belt.


Review: South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has carved a reputation for his unconventional sci-fi storytelling. While his films do offer a unique aesthetic, it could be argued that they have not been able to match the quality of his 2009 sci-fi film District 9. In retrospect, District 9 may have set the benchmark too high for Blomkamp’s subsequent films. In many ways, Gran Turismo can be viewed as Blomkamp’s new canvas to showcase his calibre as a serious filmmaker. Gran Turismo is built on the foundation of a rather cliched underdog story, that has been rinsed and repeated in Hollywood over the years. However, Blomkamp has successfully managed to set his film apart from similar productions and has elevated the film to surprisingly lofty heights.


The first act of the film treads on familiar ground about a young man from a working-class family challenging social norms to break the glass ceiling in order to accomplish his dreams. But the fact that the narrative is based on real events adds value to this underdog story. Unlike similar tales about an outlier upsetting the established order, Jann Mardenborough’s inspirational journey had a few additional barriers to overcome. The stigma of not being a ‘real athlete’ is one that has a profound impact on multiple levels. This aspect is explored in the film through Mardenborough’s real-life crash at the dangerous Nürburgring circuit. Motorsports enthusiasts will be well aware of the perils of this historic venue. With more than 100 deaths reported at Nürburgring during motor race events and other private events, the German racing circuit remains one of the most dangerous racing tracks in the world. It is also the same circuit where Formula One legend Niki Lauda crashed his Ferrari in 1976 – a near-fatal accident that was recreated in the critically acclaimed 2013 Ron Howard film Rush.


The stellar execution of a straightforward plot certainly deserves praise, but it is the film’s ability to deliver scenes with an emotional depth that exceeds expectations. Lead star Archie Madekwe’s performance as Mardenborough and David Harbour’s turn as Jack Salter are pivotal to these scenes pulling the heartstrings of the audience. Djimon Hounsou and Geri Halliwell also essay compelling performances, and they play a significant part in relaying the seriousness of Mardenborough's crash to the audience. The entire sequence is edited to perfection and well-directed by the filmmakers. The writers have also explored themes of class disparity in motorsports and how it has essentially made various events less competitive. It is an obvious criticism aimed at racers such as former Formula One drivers Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi, who have been accused of “buying their seats”.


The film’s greatest strength lies in its elegance of blending real racing and sim racing on screen. It is a seamless transition of visuals that offers a first-person view of Mardenborough’s evolution from a sim racer to a real racer. For those who have played Gran Turismo at some point in their lives, the film offers a sense of nostalgia as well as a reminiscence of a childhood dream of turning virtual simulation into reality. While gamers with expertise in football or tennis simulation games will probably never have the opportunity to translate their virtual skills to real-life skills, motorsports simulation with the right game and the right tools could unearth a future motor racing talent, similar to how the GT Academy propelled Mardenborough from racing in his bedroom to competing in one of the most iconic and gruelling races in the world – the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Verdict: Neil Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo is both a video game adaptation and biography. While this combination is certainly unprecedented, it has helped the film break free of the constraints that often shackle film adaptations of video games. The film offers stellar performances, pulsating racing sequences, emotional depth, and a few of Black Sabbath's greatest hits to elevate specific scenes. It therefore begs the question as to why PlayStation Studios did not pour in the same effort for 2022’s Uncharted. However, with other iconic PlayStation IPs such as God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Ghost of Tsushima all reportedly getting live-action adaptations, Gran Turismo, and the incredible success TV shows such as Arcane, Castlevania, and the multiple Emmy-nominated The Last of Us offer plenty of promise for future video game adaptations.



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