Pretending I'm a Superman Review

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched on the original PlayStation in the fall of 1999, delivering a skateboarding video game that was easy to learn, fun to play, and captured the spirit and attitude of the extreme sport, from the t-shirts and cargo pants of the skaters to the indie punk rock soundtrack. Not only was it a video game hit that launched an entire franchise, but it breathed new life into skateboarding overall, turned millions of kids onto a sport that had been declared dead, and sparked an interest in other extreme sports.

Pretending I’m Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story is a new documentary from director Ludvig Gür that attempts to chronicle the origin and legacy of Tony Hawk’s video game franchise. While the subject matter should be enough to captivate viewers, or at least satisfy fans interested in skateboarding and the video game series, the documentary lacks the spirit of the sport itself, runs low on energy, and seems short on interesting anecdotes and recollections about the making of these games and the excitement that surrounded skateboarding at the height of franchise’s popularity.

Skateboarding has a history of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. The sport rose in popularity and faded out just as quickly throughout every single decade since the 1970s. The resurgence in the 1980s saw skateboarders taking to the big screen in movies like Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’, and some early console and arcade games tried to capitalize on the sport’s popularity before it came crashing down again in the 1990s. But Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came along and changed skateboarding forever. That should be interesting enough for a documentary, but there’s very little real energy and enthusiasm in telling this story, and that’s just a small part of the problems with this movie.

Talking heads with Tony Hawk and professional skateboarders featured in the games, such as Bob Burnquist, Steve CaballeroRodney MullenChad Muska, Jamie Thomas and many more, come off flat and boring. These are guys who made a living off skateboarding and love the sport to death, so surely these interviews can be more than just them sitting inside skate parks and giving lifeless answers to questions about the rise of this video game series. While some of the skaters do offer interesting perspectives on the creation of the game, especially those who were hesitant or critical of the project at the time, none of them offer any real insight into the actual process of making the game, and most of them have the same cookie cutter reactions to what the game did for skateboarding. Did no one think to get some of these skateboarders together in the same room for some more candid discussions?

The original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater takes up a majority of the running time, the first sequel gets maybe a quarter as much of a focus, and the remaining sequels go by in a flash, each getting barely two minutes of real estate. More time could have been spent examining how the games evolved, even as interest waned with the later installments of the franchise. But it’s all glossed over in favor of more meaningless interviews and skateboarding footage. Granted, the makers of the game and the skateboarders involved address the eventual fall of the video game, and it’s some of the more honest and interesting parts of movie. But for a documentary that’s meant to be about the franchise, there’s not enough substance here to fill the short 1 hour 11 minute runtime.

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

Meanwhile, more recent professional skaters like Elliot Sloan and Aaron “Jaws” Homoki talk about how the game turned them onto the sport. Jordyn Barratt, a young female skateboarder, mentions how influential the game was by including the skateboarder Elissa Steamer, showing girls that skateboarding isn’t just a sport for dudes. These are all moments that deserve to be expanded beyond one minute soundbites, but they’re left unexplored in any meaningful way. It pecks on the surface without digging as deep as a feature documentary should, and that’s a problem that runs the whole way through.

It doesn’t help that the movie drags due to poor editing and a lack of focus that makes it hard to latch onto any significant moments. Too many generic clips and commercials featuring video game footage are dispersed throughout without any real purpose but to fill time, and very little of the movie is spent on the finer details of how this video game franchise actually came together. Perhaps this is because there isn’t an interesting enough story beyond the mere existence of the game, or maybe it’s because Ludvig Gür doesn’t have substantial enough documentary experience to get what he needs out of his interview subjects. It feels like the movie wouldn’t have been so disjointed if its segments were pieced together in a more cohesive fashion. But as it stands, the movie feels like a first cut without any real sense of a narrative to make a captivating story out of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting tidbits to be found here. There’s Tony Hawk’s drive to pull off the famous the famous 900 (a two-and-a-half aerial spin) just before the video game would skyrocket his career even further. The lead singer of Goldfinger talks about how the video game raised the profile of his band thanks to the inclusion of their song “Pretending I’m a Superman.” The soundtrack of the game itself was something innovative for video games at the time, but it’s a detail that only gets a passing mention without any sizeable discussion about how the array of songs came to be in the game. Even some of the songs from the video game are used in the movie, but because of the amateur filmmaking, they fail to bring any substantial life or style to the production.

If you like listening to skateboarders get nostalgic about the sport and seeing old skateboarding trick tapes, you might be entertained here and there. If you like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, you won’t get much of anything about the history of the video game that you didn’t get simply being around when the franchise became a hit and then eventually disappeared. The movie struggles to maintain a compelling through-line between skateboarding and the video game franchise that reinvigorated it. The film’s trailer honestly tells you everything you need to know about this movie. But hey, at least the first two games in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game franchise have been remastered for re-release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

And wouldn’t you know it, Pretending I’m a Superman arrives on digital and VOD on August 18, just two weeks before the video game makes a comeback. Personally, I’d recommend you spend your time playing the game rather than seeking out this documentary.

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