Hollywood's video game craze takes mega turn with 'Gran Turismo'

Hollywood’s video game craze takes mega turn with ‘Gran Turismo’

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.

Gran Turismo Film Trailer

Video Credits: Sony Pictures Entertainment

“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 from 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.” 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.” 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 theaters, from this Friday to August 25, and offered early sneak previews to fans until then, in the hope of building word-of-mouth hype.

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