Gran Turismo is a Walter Mitty-like fantasy in 4K; Blue Beetle bombs big time
By Jim Bray
Movies based on video games are nothing new, and some work well on the silver screen.
One that works particularly well is Columbia Pictures' new 4K disc release of Gran Turismo, which is based on a "driving simulator" that has been around for years now. More than just a game, GT truly can give you a head's up on fast driving on a dizzying variety of race tracks and other circuits.
I've been a GT fan for years, and I currently am on version 6, which has been out forever but which is upstaged now by its new, 4K version for the PlayStation 5 platform. I don't have a PS5 (I suffer through life with a PS3), but after having experienced the movie of GT (and seen trailers online for the sim) I'm salivating at the prospect of Santa Claus bringing me the new system when he flies his sleigh around the world on Christmas eve.
And though I didn't expect much going in, I loved the Gran Turismo movie. This isn't just a game ported over to a different medium, it's actually a true-life story of a gamer (well, "simulator") who was able to take the driving skills he honed in front of a video screen and port them over to real life racing.
Very cool indeed. And I'm extremely jealous!
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, of District 9 fame, the film follows the fortunes of Jann Mardenborough, a Welsh kid who seemed to live for GT, much to his parents' chagrin. Then, as a way to promote his company's cars, Nissan's Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) founded GT Academy, offering video gamers a way to compete head-to-head on their platforms, with the best of them being offered the chance to compete in real life, racing in Nissan GT-R's (though in the real world, they were 350Z's).
Talk about a Walter Mitty-like fantasy!
Jann, of course, wins and this propels him into a new career as a wet-behind-the-ears noob to the world of actual racing, much to the disgust of many folks who've sweated and suffered for their careers. But over the course of the movie, he proves his mettle behind the wheel of Nissan's metal, in the process silencing his critics and launching a whole new career as a real-world racing driver (the real life Jann apparently still does this today – and he even served as stunt driver for the actor portraying him, which is extremely cool to these wannabe racer's eyes).
There's a lot more to it than this short description, but I hesitate to give away much more of the plot because it's not only interesting and cool, but a very good racing movie as well, in the tradition of such classic racing movies as Ford v. Ferrari, Ron Howard's Rush and John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix.
Actually, it's closer to Grand Prix, in that (much to my surprise) it actually puts the actors' bums (and the bums of stunt and real-life racing drivers) into real cars and drives them at speed, eschewing the CG one might expect in this day and age.
Can you imagine what a blast that would have been for those involved?
The film looks and feels like Gran Turismo, the PlayStation simulation – so much so that I figured the tracks and cars were actually rendered via GT's CG until I watched the supplements that are included on the Blu-ray that also comes in the box with the 4K disc. This honesty to the "game" even goes as far as using GT's sound effects (for example, when counting down to start a race). There are also some pretty neat cars beyond merely showcasing Nissans (though of course Nissans get the most prominence because it was their project in the first place).
It's a compelling story about following your dreams, seizing opportunities, and working your buttocks off to make your Golden Opportunity a successful one. This takes it beyond being merely a racing movie – or a nerdfest – and into a more mainstream mien that can be enjoyed by non-nerds and non-race fans alike.
As for me, I've spent many, many otherwise productive hours with my racing wheel and pedals, honing my virtual skills and dreaming of doing it in real life. And though even Gran Turismo's authentic simulation doesn't give you an exact copy of the real-life tracks – for example there's a gentle turn heading away from Laguna Seca's start/finish line that doesn't really come through in GT (and usually bites me in the bum when I take it far too fast) – but it really does give you an incredible feel for that and many other tracks both real and made up.
Then-Top Gear guru Jeremy Clarkson tried this "virtual versus real" on that BBC show many years back, too, though he only had a PS controller rather than a racing wheel. But he drove a virtual "Honda" (Acura in North America) NSX around Laguna Seca, then tried it again at the actual track, driving an actual NSX. He couldn't beat his PS time, but I imagine he had the time of his life. And he got paid to do it. I hated him for that!
As noted in the movie's supplements (which are sparse but very watchable, including a few deleted scenes) real life racers now use sims to hone their skills as well. So, the concept works.
I watched Gran Turismo on a Saturday night and it motivated me to bring my wheel/pedals combo out of the basement the next day and, for the first time in several months, fire up GT6 and see how I did. I chose my favourite car – a souped up "B5" generation Audi RS4 Avant that's the closest thing the sim has to my real life "B6" A4 Avant Sportwagon – and went at it. It was fun, but the 1080p graphics aren't up to either the new 4K standard of the PS5 or the lovely 4K picture of the movie.
And then my grandkids showed up and I had to move over.
The movie looks great! Detail is fantastic and the high dynamic range helps the colours pop off the screen. It's glorious! As is the audio, which is presented in Dolby Atmos (which will play in Dolby TrueHD if you don't have Atmos). Fidelity is first rate and all the home theatre channels (5.1 in the case of my own system) are used very well.
The overall effect is to put you right into the action, and that's a very good thing in Gran Turismo.
Extras are limited to a few short featurettes showcasing various aspects of the production, as well as a few deleted scenes. I'd have loved to see some more in-depth stuff about bringing the true-ish (this is NOT a documentary) story to life. Perhaps there'll be a special edition down the road.
Even if there isn't, however, Gran Turismo is a fun ride in the home theatre, especially for sim racers, and tells a compelling story of one young man's push for racing greatness.
I loved it!
Blue Beetle Bites…
Then there's Blue Beetle which, alas, isn't even remotely about an old Volkswagen.
No, it's a minor entry from the DC comics universe, one I'd never heard of before despite growing up as a DC comics fan in the 1960's.
Having seen this mishmash of a film based on that series, I can see why I never noticed Blue Beetle before. Yikes, this is a bad movie!
It's kind of reminiscent of earlier family angst-filled DC movies like the also bad (but not THIS bad!) Black Adam. Wonder Woman 1984 also treads this territory, and I didn't think too much of it, either. But it's still better than Blue Beetle.
The hero is Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena), the first in his illegal immigrant family to earn a college degree. Jaime's dream is to help raise the family out of poverty and save the home out of which they're about to be thrown. Funny, the family decries their situation loudly, but never do we hear about them wanting to return to their original home across the border. So, I guess they're still better off in America…
Not, of course, that this is a documentary.
Anyway, circumstances put Jamie in touch with Jenny (Bruna Marquezine, who appears to be the only not-evil capitalist in the world). She's the black sheep of the Big Company run by Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon, who must have really needed the money), whose company has not only invented a kind of Iron Man armoured suit but has also discovered a blue Scarab whose capabilities at the time are unknown.
Jamie gets taken over by the Scarab, turning him into the superhero Blue Beetle and putting him into conflict with Victoria and her little fiends who want the Scarab back for their own nefarious purposes.
I generally prefer origin stories when it comes to superheroes, but Blue Beetle proves that even an origin story needs an original story, and a good one. Such is not the case here. The movie is trite, hackneyed, cliched, and it beats you over the head with its Hispanic family angst. And how does a family living in poverty have the wherewithal to design and build high tech thingies that just happen to be just what's needed for a particular challenge. It's almost as if Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) read the script.
At least Warner Brothers' 4K disc looks great, with lush detail, beautiful colours and nice use of HDR to enhance things. The Dolby Atmos mix is even better, nicely detailed and nuanced and filling your home theatre completely.
Extras, which are included on the 4K disc, includes background on the character and its DC comics origins, as well as some looks at the movie itself. Blue Beetle Generations is a four part look (brief, fortunately) that includes cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, camera tests, etc.
There's also Scarab Vision, which breaks down a couple of scenes, and Blue Beetle's Nana Knows Best is a look at Jaime's grandma, who turns out to be quite the "unsuperhero" on her own.
If you only have time for one of these movies – or even if you do have time – don't waste it on Blue Beetle. Instead, why not strap yourself in for a much more rewarding ride in the home theatre by taking a look at Gran Turismo. It's well worth your attention.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray