Gran Turismo Takes a Meta Turn on Hollywood’s Newfound Video Game Adaptation Craze

It is based on the real-life story of Jann Mardenborough, who became a professional race car driver through gaming contests.

Gran Turismo Takes a Meta Turn on Hollywood’s Newfound Video Game Adaptation Craze

Photo Credit: Sony

A still from the film 'Gran Turismo'

  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Uncharted, and The Last Of Us saw success
  • Gran Turismo is directed by Neill Blomkamp
  • It stars Orlando Bloom, David Harbour, and Archie Madekwe

Ever since the huge successes of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Uncharted, and The Last Of Us, films and TV shows adapted from video games have been all the rage in Hollywood. But when Neill Blomkamp received a call from Sony asking if he wanted to direct a movie based around its super-serious, hyper-realistic racing game series Gran Turismo, he was initially confused.

“I almost wanted to read the screenplay just to understand what they were talking about because it just made no sense to me,” he told AFP. “Obviously, it's just a racing simulator.”

Indeed, the Gran Turismo games have no characters like Italian plumbers or fungus-crazed zombies who would lend themselves to a straightforward Hollywood film adaptation. As a result, the movie's script — penned by the writer of King Richard and Creed III — took an entirely different and very meta approach.

It is largely based instead on a marketing stunt, back in 2008, when Sony and Nissan launched a competition in which top Gran Turismo video gamers could test their skills on actual racetracks. The GT Academy took PlayStation gamers out of their bedrooms, and put them behind real racecar wheels. Each year's champion was then given a chance to race against professional drivers on world-famous tracks including Silverstone and Le Mans.

One of those, Jann Mardenborough — a working-class teen from Darlington, England, who was one of the first GT Academy gamers to successfully compete in real racing — is the subject of the movie.

“I was so struck by this approach of it being a biography, but also being a video game film,” said Blomkamp, who previously directed District 9 and Elysium. “And that the video game would be an element inside that real world — the way that Gran Turismo exists in our world.”

Emotional heft

Reviews for the movie have been mixed, with the Guardian dubbing it an "ode to product placement." But others praised the film's surprising emotional heft — not least its treatment of a fatal accident involving Mardenborough.

At Germany's famous Nurburgring circuit in 2015, Mardenborough's car flipped vertically into the air and crashed through a fence, killing one spectator and injuring several more.

Mardenborough was cleared of any blame for the freak accident — although the movie suggests that racing purists who disliked his gamer background continued to whisper otherwise. Particularly with the real Mardenborough acting as stunt double for his own character in the film, the tragic incident had to be tackled with care.

“You can't tell his story without having that in it. It's such an integral part of his journey,” said Blomkamp. But the crash is also "super sensitive for Jann," admitted Blomkamp.

While the real Mardenborough performed other driving stunts throughout the movie, the decision was taken to recreate the fatal crash with "effectively 100 percent digital" technology.

In part that was because the crash itself was so infamous and unusual, with the car going vertically airborne as it soared over a steeply undulating hill.

“We tried to match what the car did, basically pixel perfect, from the video footage that we could find,” said Blomkamp. Of course, using computer-generated visual effects (VFX) for that particular scene meant "there was no requirement for stunts at all."

Strikes and hype

Another obstacle for the movie has been Hollywood's ongoing strikes. The walkout, over actors' and writers' pay and other conditions, bars its stars such as Orlando Bloom, David Harbour, and Archie Madekwe from promoting the film at the usual swanky premieres and junkets.

Sony took the unusual decision to delay the film's release in theatres, from this Friday to August 25, and offered early sneak previews to fans until then, in the hope of building word-of-mouth hype.

“The stars can't promote the movie, but the audience can,” said a Sony spokesperson.

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Gran Turismo

  • Release Date 18 August 2023
  • Language English
  • Genre Action, Adventure, Drama
  • Cast
    Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Darren Barnet, Djimon Hounsou, Geri Halliwell, Daniel Puig, Josha Stradowski, Thomas Kretschmann, Maeve Courtier-Lilley, Emelia Hartford, Pepe Barroso, Sang Heon Lee, Max Mundt, Mariano González, Harki Bhambra, Lindsay Pattison, Théo Christine, Nikhil Parmar
  • Director
    Neill Blomkamp
  • Producer
    Asad Qizilbash, Carter Swan, Doug Belgrad, Dana Brunetti

The Last of Us Season 2

  • Genre Action, Drama, Thriller


  • Release Date 18 February 2022
  • Language English
  • Genre Action, Adventure
  • Cast
    Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Rudy Pankow, Pilou Asbæk
  • Director
    Ruben Fleischer
  • Producer
    Charles Roven, Avi Arad, Alex Gartner, Ari Arad

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

  • Release Date 7 April 2023
  • Language English
  • Genre Animation, Kids & Family
  • Cast
    Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Kevin Michael Richardson, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet
  • Director
    Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
  • Producer
    Chris Meledandri, Shigeru Miyamoto

King Richard

  • Release Date 25 March 2022
  • Language English
  • Genre Biography, Drama, Sport
  • Cast
    Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal
  • Director
    Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Producer
    Tim White, Trevor White, Will Smith

Creed III

  • Release Date 3 March 2023
  • Language English
  • Genre Action, Drama, Sport
  • Cast
    Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Jonathan Majors
  • Director
    Michael B. Jordan
  • Producer
    Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King Templeton, Sylvester Stallone, Jonathan Glickman, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler

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