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Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story Review

Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story will be released on VOD & Digital platforms on August 18 from Wood Entertainment in North America, as well as internationally through Garage (Australia), Sky Documentaries (UK), and Program Store (France).

Pretending I’m a Superman focuses just as much on video games as it does on the history of skateboarding and the culture surrounding it. Those who either grew up playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater or used to skateboard (and those who still ride) will find fascination in the details of what really went on behind-the-scenes and how the game’s release had a major impact on the growth of the sport worldwide.

The film is grounded in the reality of seeing professional athletes and well-known bands struggle in their respective fields, until the video game industry gave them an unexpected opportunity that changed their entire lives. Tony will be the first to admit the success in his career is due to Tony Hawk Pro Skater.

The opening of the documentary has parallels to classic skate videos, which is a subtle yet appreciated throwback for anyone who remembers watching skate vids on repeat. Punk music blares as the shots highlight the main pro skaters interviewed for the documentary – all household names – including Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Bob Burnquist, Jamie Thomas, Eric Koston, and Aaron “Jaws” Homoki. Each of these skaters offer valuable insight to what it was like during the beginning and later periods of the game’s release.

Pretending I’m a Superman – The Tony Hawk Video Game Story

Pretending I’m a Superman flawlessly flows through the eras of skateboarding and effectively chronicles the ups and downs of the sport to lay the groundwork of the progression that leads to Tony Hawk Pro Skater’s success, starting with the popularity of skateboarding in the ’70s and moving through the crashes and rises in the ’80s and ’90s. It wasn’t until the extreme sports event, X Games, launching in 1995, that Tony’s name became recognizable following his gold and silver medals for vert and street skating categories.

Swedish award-winning filmmaker Ludvig Gür does a fantastic job directing a piece that has so many moving parts in various timelines, yet intertwining the older, classic shots on VHS with modern tech and cinematics to pull out the depth in the story so it doesn’t fall flat. There are areas that could use improvement, but are minor in comparison, such as towards the end of the film when the focus gets slightly lost while trying to add in various topics before it wraps.

Tony shares how he’s always been a gamer and was an “arcade kid,” which is when the documentary transitions into discussions around the creation of a skateboarding game. From various publishers pushing back against the idea to Activision ultimately working with Neversoft on the project, you see the nitty gritty of what appears to have been a lengthy process. A common theme from the negative responses were publishers thinking a skateboarding game wouldn’t be marketable enough – something that is clearly proved otherwise throughout the film.

Mockup illustrations for level designs and characters, along with demo footage, and behind-the-scenes motion-capture bring you into that time and make you more curious as to what the process was like, which continues to be elaborated on between each scene and interview. Walter Day, accurately described as the “father of competitive gaming,” even makes an appearance, going back to the beginning of skateboarding games and what Tony Hawk Pro Skater meant for the gaming world.

The only scattered part of the documentary is the focus on the bands that were highlighted in the original game, including Goldfinger, Primus, and Bad Religion. The discussions are more than captivating and inspiring, but they seem to be edited into random sections throughout, which ultimately interrupts the flow of the film in those parts.

Something this documentary does extremely well is instantly make you want to jump back into playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater (which will be possible on current-gen consoles come September with the remake) or head outside and get back on a skateboard – the latter of which inspired those who played the game originally, including pro skater Elliot Sloan who elaborates on his influence from Tony and the game.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 Reveal Screenshots

The film also details the complexity surrounding the sequel and growth of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater brand, including mistakes that were made and titles that died off due to various factors – one of which was when the game Skate released in 2007, which saw a substantial decline in sales for the Tony Hawk games, since they all of a sudden had another competitor in the field.

Verdict

A documentary about video games and even more about skateboarding could sound like a strange mash-up, but Pretending I’m a Superman is a polished film that weaves together the story of not only Tony Hawk and THPS, but also the influence the game had on so many skateboarders – from pros to those inspired to pick up a board and start riding on the street. Anyone who has nostalgia for Tony Hawk Pro Skater or who grew up skateboarding won’t be able to look away. While Pretending I’m a Superman focuses on the growth of the sport with stories of kids and teenagers picking up skateboarding and learning trick names after playing the game, it’s hearing professional skateboarders that you grew up watching talk about how much being in the game changed their life that proves incredibly powerful.

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