Many of us have played a Tony Hawk video game at some point in our lives. Whether it’s Pro Skater, THUG, Project 8, American Wasteland, or even Ride, the franchise existed in this unique cross-section of skater, music, and gamer culture. Before the games, you felt a bit like an outcast if you did any of those three things.
It’s hard to explain the franchise’s impact after its downfall, but that’s what it did for kids my age. Back in elementary school, if I had the time, I’d go over to my friend’s and play Pro Skater 4 on the GameCube the same way people got together to play Super Smash Bros. Melee back then. When I got into middle school, I outgrew the GameCube and moved onto the Xbox 360, but all those hours playing Pro Skater 4 gave me the itch to give skateboarding a go. My house was 15 minutes away on foot, but if you got a skateboard, you were there in less than five minutes. So, I begged for a skateboard with a sound 28” deck, 50mm wheels, a bright red set of trucks, bearings that would allow me to steer at high speeds (we had a lot of hills) in case of a wipeout, and I loved it. That is until I tried to barrel down a hill at full speed and had to bail. Don’t worry. I didn’t just jump off the board or anything. The best way I knew how to bail was to turn the wheels to my left to slow down and get out of anyone’s way before jumping off and grabbing the board.
Considering how much Pro Skater 4 impacted my childhood, when I learned that there was going to be a documentary about the development of the franchise that starred all the people I played in the games, I knew I had to review it. Unfortunately, when I sent my request email to the production studio, I was unable to acquire an advanced copy of the documentary. So, last week, with some of my birthday money, I rented it on YouTube Movies.
Unfortunately for Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story, it’s not really about Tony Hawk or the games created by Neversoft, instead focusing on a mishmash of moments in skater culture, the history of skateboarding in video games, Neversoft’s founding, and the Tony Hawk games. While this sounds like a cohesive structure to build a documentary off, the documentary never feels comfortable delving into any of these subjects for too long before getting back to Tony Hawk. I don’t know if this is a directorial or editorial issue, but I could see the strain quite plainly about halfway in when it takes a beat to sell the impact of the first Pro Skater as if the documentary is almost over. But no, it goes right along after this beat and races through the other Tony Hawk games and has an excruciatingly long wrap up before the credits roll.
I am not in the business of “fixing” things I see wrong with a movie I’m reviewing, as it’s suggesting to those involved in the production that there is something wrong with the film at its very core. Well, this time, there is something very wrong with its very core. With a cast comprising of Eric Koston, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Aaron Homoki, Christian Hosoi, and other legendary skaters other than The Birdman himself, Tony Hawk, the documentary should’ve taken time delving into the life of a skateboarder before Tony Hawk as well as during the Tony Hawk era.
Sure, this documentary’s main point is to document the history of the games’ development, but there were so many things going on around the 2000s and 2010s that Pretending I’m A Superman doesn’t even touch. For example, with the arrival of the iPod Nano and YouTube, the way skater culture changed with the times was the creation of video podcasts and video tutorials from skaters like Nyjah Huston, Bam Margera, Element, Thrasher, and so many other beneficial things that the Internet brought to skaters who maybe had an iPod, but didn’t have a skate park or people to teach them how to do ollies or kickflips in a way they understood. Also, I wish the film was much more critical of how Activision handled the franchise and why that created a handhold for franchises like Skate to usurp them at every turn. Oh, and when Tony does get into criticizing some of the bad moves he made with the franchise, it’s brushed off, and we are shuffled on to the next interview.
Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story is not a documentary when it comes down to it. It’s a nostalgia trip that, although it means well, doesn’t take the cultural impact of the franchise as seriously as it should’ve.
Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story is available to rent or purchase on the platform of your choosing.