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Gran Turismo brings sim racing to life

Sony’s big screen GT debut comes to Melbourne, and GoAuto is in the front row

8 Aug 2023

SIMULATOR racing, motorsport, and Kenny G. It might sound like an odd combination, but this based-on-a-true-story film about a smooth jazz loving teenage sim-racer turned pro is remarkably well executed and technically brilliant… well, eventually.


The first 15-20 minutes of Gran Turismo might have you wondering why you bothered. The plot takes what feels like an eternity to develop and, if we’re completely honest, is rather thin; even predictable.


It doesn’t help that Archie Madekwe’s delivery (in the lead role of Jann Mardenborough) is awkward, even enervated. At times, you really do wonder if this kid is up to the task. Orlando Bloom’s role as the slick Nissan PR guru, Danny Moore, really isn’t much better.


But we’d urge you to stick it out. As the diegesis levels out you begin to wonder if the flat first quarter is intentional. When the lead character’s on-track performance improves, so does the film’s pace and plausibility.


The determination of Mardenborough, supported (eventually) by former racer turned coach Jack Slater (played by David Harbour), proves that the skills learnt behind the screen are transferrable to the track. Even if the process is anything but smooth.


We follow Mardenborough from boot camp to the podium with the expected lashings of “eSports ain’t real sports” banter and the requisite number of in-game visuals.


These, however, serve to remind you just how technically accurate simulator racing has become. The CGI overlays are visually spectacular and a perennial aide-memoire as to the complexities of at-home racing.


If only this level of digitally created imagery were around in the Fast & Furious days…


Once established as a bona fide racer, Mardenborough and the crew take on a different dynamic. It’s a step-up that’s reflected by not only the unity between the racer, coach, and public relations man (is he really allowed in pit lane?), but also in the vivification of the flick’s cinematography.


From the Nürburgring Nordschleife to the Dubai Autodrome, the Red Bull Ring and eventually Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe, the level of immersion felt both in and outside of the cockpit is dramatic and well rounded.


Many of the camera angles feel inspired by gameplay, evoking both a sense of speed and risk. Anyone who has spent time on the track will appreciate how well done this aspect of the film really is.


And in the end, that’s part of what makes Gran Turismo work…


It’s not a perfect film, and it isn’t perfectly executed. But it does make you believe that all the hours whiled away on the Sony PlayStation is time well spent, and that your teenager might well have a career behind the ‘wheel of the world’s fastest race cars.


After all, it worked for Jann Mardenborough.

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