The late 90s and early 2000s were the golden era for Skateboarding. Rising popularity in the mainstream, meant skaters were quickly becoming household names and the sport was gaining more credibility. One of those names that still retains its star power over 25 years later is that of Tony Hawk, the man who landed the 900 at the 1999 X-Games and in turn cemented his place in the annals of history.
Four months after that historic event, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater released on the PlayStation and was met with critical acclaim, forever changing the landscape of Skateboarding as a sport and creating a new genre of games. Pretending I’m a Superman follows the story of the Pro Skater series, charting it’s meteoric rise and the fall from grace in it’s later years, all told from the perspective of those right in the middle of it all.
Pretending I’m a Superman starts with the man at it’s heart, Tony Hawk, landing the pivotal 900 at the age of 48. Right from the start, you can tell this documentary is a love letter to not only Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but also the man himself and the wider skateboarding community. The documentary takes viewers back to the 80s and a time when skateboarding was limited to smaller groups and rarely in the mainstream spotlight, losing the momentum it had garnered during the 70s.
The likes of Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Jamie Thomas, Cara-Beth Burnside and other professional skateboarders talk us through the scene at the time, the trials, the tribulations and the way in which it changed as everyone moved towards the 90s. The history of skateboarding is one that has been extensively documented, but it’s a great way to set up the rise of the THPS series so we can see later how much it helped change things.
Pretending I’m a Superman also charts the rise of street skateboarding and skate films, two things that had a huge impact on the look and feel of the THPS series. Hearing from a number of professional skateboarders about how they adapted to the change in the industry is a meaningful insight that sets the scene for what the next decade brought with it.
The culture and history of skateboarding is important and with the sport having faced so many challenges from the establishment, authorities and society at large, it’s great to see so much credence paid to it in Pretending I’m a Superman. It gives you a far better appreciation for where the industry is today and what it has gone through to get here.
This documentary clearly respects it’s core subject, interjecting footage with famous skate videos and recognisable songs. It treats skateboarding with the reverence it deserves, giving the microphone to those who helped build its legacy, empowering them to be open and honest about the sport.
With the scene set and almost fifteen year’s of Skateboarding history condensed into fifteen or so minutes – that’s a minute per year – it shifts its sights and introduces the birth of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Riding a wave of popularity off the back of the X-Games, Tony Hawk was approached by a number of developers and publishers looking to create a skateboarding game. Fortunately, one of those interested parties was Activision, which resulted in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Pretending I’m a Superman gives Tony and a number of key developers the spotlight to talk viewers through its initial inception and the way in which it was built.
As someone who spent their childhood and teen years playing the Pro Skater games, it’s great to see all the nuts and bolts that went into creating the series. From the way the developers leant on Tony for knowledge of the sport, to how his 900 special move was brought into the game at the last minute after he landed it for the first time at the X-Games. Pretending I’m aSuperman is filled with these fantastic little nuggets of information, which I think fans of the series will absolutely love.
The documentary also features a few snippets of Larry Lolende of Primus and John Feldmann of Goldfinger, both discussing how they got involved with THPS and the effect it had on their respective bands. The soundtracks across the THPS series helped shape mine and I imagine many others’ tastes in music, so it’s great to see Pretending I’m a Superman make some time for another important aspect of the series’ history.
It really drives home the theme of change and growth, showing the ways in which the THPS series altered the path of skateboarding. While it could be argued that another game or series likely would have appeared in its place if it hadn’t been developed, it’s still lovely to see the new generation of skateboarders who were directly inspired by the series. It’s in these moments that Pretending I’m a Superman shines the brightest, showing skateboarding and THPS for what they were, a global phenomenon that changes the lives of millions of people.
It’s also interesting to see the director touch on the downfall of the series, pinpointing the point at which sales declined following the release of Project 8 and the introduction of major competitors in the genre. While it would have been nice to explore this period a little more, we still got to see Tony discuss the infamous RIDE peripheral and the workings behind it. Even with the series’ later failings, you can see how much it would continue to inspire and encourage people to pick up the sport with numerous professional skateboarders stating they joined the sport due to the series.
One are the documentary fails to address is the series’ return and the opportunity to take an inside look at the upcoming THPS 1 + 2 remake. This is a documentary that focuses on the effect the series had on skateboarding and pop-culture, so to see what could well be a redemption story in the form of this reboot would have been a fantastic way to end the documentary.