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

Skateboarders and video game enthusiasts alike will be drawn in by this enjoyably nostalgic doc.

Just in time for the remastering of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 comes a documentary about the “gamification” of Hawk — and skateboarding’s explosive popularity.

Tony Hawk (courtesy Wood Entertainment).

Clocking in at a brief 73 minutes, Pretending I’m a Superman moves quickly to cover a lot of territory.

The film opens with a brief history of skateboarding. At first it was a cult with a few enthusiastic practitioners. But the advent of home video cameras played a big part in the 1980s, enabling skaters to make their own “shows,” spreading the gospel to VCRs everywhere.

Skate parks were being constructed all around the country — especially in California. Huge, big-money competitions were being held. Even Hollywood took notice, releasing such films as Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’. By the end of the decade, it was a phenomenon — but it was also already showing signs of decline.

The parks began to close down left and right, and the skaters had to hit the streets. The absence of the tall, curved incline ramps forced these former “vert skaters” to learn how to manage in a horizontal environment. By the early 1990s, skateboarding had been reduced to a cult once again.

Ironically, as they adapted to the new ways of skating, public interest surged. In 1995, the X Games were launched…and the whole scene exploded. Tony became the “poster child.”

Meanwhile, video gaming continued to increase in popularity, especially as it became more graphically sophisticated and had more elaborate soundtracks than “beep beep boop.” Hawk loved gaming as much as skating, so it was a natural for him to merge them together. He was contacted by Neversoft to help sell and develop what would become Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

It was a hard sell at first. After a lot of rejections, Activision finally came through. And Hawk’s active participation in the development process started to gather interest. Skaters and fans alike knew they were going to get an authentic game that was true to the spirit of skateboarding.

Venice (courtesy Wood Entertainment).

On its release date, heads must have rolled at the companies who declined. It was the highest-selling game for 1999, and sent Hawk’s popularity soaring into the stratosphere.

It was also one of the first games to bring a musical soundtrack front and center. Even Vicarious Visions, the re-releasing company, is proclaiming victory on obtaining the rights to original songs from such bands as Rage Against the Machine, Papa Roach and Primus.

Many of them received a surge in popularity just by appearing on the game. The lead singer of Goldfinger, John Feldmann, said that “nobody gave a shit” about them until it was released.

Interestingly, Vicarious has decided not to de-age the characters, so players will be able to see a 52-year-old Hawk still riding the ramps.

Sharply directed by Ludvig Gür, the film features a treasure trove of vintage footage and new interviews with Hawk and his peers — Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska and Eric Koston, to name a few. Fans of gaming, skating and punk rock will get a healthy dose of nostalgia from this documentary as an added bonus.

Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story is available on digital and VOD platforms beginning Aug. 18.

Kurt Gardner

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