For people of a certain age, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series is held in high esteem. I know I have fond memories of playing the first two games for hours, both with friends and alone. While its massive success seems obvious in retrospect, it's actually one of the least likely successful franchises in modern video game history. As revealed in the new documentary Pretending I'm a Superman, skateboarding was on the downslope of its cyclical popularity at the time of the game's development. As a sport, it exploded in the late '70s, declined in the early '80s, and went up and down until the mid-90s. That's when ESPN started broadcasting the X Games, bringing the sport back into the mainstream. Throughout those peaks and valleys, Tony Hawk maintained his position as the face of the sport.
There hadn't been many successful skateboarding games, and previous attempts to make one with Hawk had gone nowhere. But Activision turned to upstart game studio Neversoft (whose first game was the Bruce Willis shooter Apocalypse) to make it work. Hawk, standing out among the boardroom full of suits, signed off and the rest is history.
Pretending I'm a Superman is brief but covers all it needs to. It starts with a condensed history of skateboarding, explaining just enough for unaware viewers to get a full grasp on the key elements. While Hawk is the central figure, it offers plenty of screen time and reverence to other all-stars, highlighting their competitions and the DIY aesthetic that led many of them to make and distribute their own videos, which, in its own right, became an underground sensation.
The doc also addresses the healthy skepticism many skaters had about the prospect of this video game and the X Games in general. But no one has anything bad to say about Hawk, even if he got more name recognition and cash. And for the bands that contributed songs to that first edition – including Goldfinger, whose song "Superman" gives the film its title – all saw a boost in ticket and album sales.
Pretending I'm a Superman is not an earth-shattering or essential documentary. But it does engage, hitting all the key points, as it explains why the series (particularly the first two games) were such a phenomenon.
*This film is currently available via On-Demand and Digital platforms.