A nexus of raw human talent and innovative game development combined to create one of the coolest sports games of all video game history. With Pretending I’m A Superman, fans of the Tony Hawk games can take a deep dive into one of a generation's best sports game franchises. In a short time the doc manages to give a little history and perspective while reminding fans why this series was so cool. Fans of the games need to check this one out. Recommended
If you love football but can’t play, you grabbed the latest round of Madden. If you love baseball but can’t play, you grabbed the latest hit of The Show. If you had weak ankles and terrible balance and couldn’t zip through a halfpipe, you picked up the latest version of Tony Hawk! Just when skateboarding was moving from being a backyard niche activity into a real-world Olympic-class sport, Tony Hawk became a household name through video game consoles everywhere. One game after the next, the series took gamers from one wild course to the next inspiring generations of kids to set down the controller and pick up their first board. Pretending I'm A Superman is the story of the rise and fall of this titan of sports gaming.
Multiple sprained ankles kept me out of anything resembling a football career. A nicked tendon in my left hand pretty much ended any chance of playing baseball in the eighth grade. Also as a comic nerd and rabid film lover that was above-average-chubby and not very athletic, playing sports just wasn’t a priority. Especially when I could slap in the latest Madden cartridge into my Genesis and drive the Detroit Lions to Super Bowl glory! I wasn’t into skateboarding but several of my friends were skaters and they amassed a library of tapes. One after the other I was exposed to a variety of men and women doing crazy tricks… and I was bored to tears. I just couldn't get into it. But when the first Tony Hawk game came out, I converted. Suddenly in control of the action and tricks, I was hooked and couldn’t put my controller down and I gradually got into watching the videos. My attempts at actual skateboarding were not successful and were very painful.
Pretending I’m Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story beautifully recaptures that era of mid-90s sports and video gaming. Director Ludvig Gur deftly weaves a tale of the rise and acceptance of skateboarding as a legitimate sport with the rise of one of the coolest sports gaming franchises. At 71 minutes, the film is pretty short, but it packs a lot into it. The first twenty minutes or so felt a little off-topic at times as it dealt mostly with the history of skateboarding and where the sport was in the early ‘90s. And while that section may not seem like it serves much purpose, it puts the rest of the film into context. Just when the X Games started to become popular, Tony Hawk lent his likeness and unique set of tricks and skills to a burgeoning game developer Neversoft. And as they say, the rest is history.
Pretending I’m Superman is at its best when it doesn’t try to hide from some of the games’ shortcomings. It delves deep into the development of that iconic first game, the fan and community reactions, and the great follow-up editions that dropped year after year. But it also shines a lot on the key players who arguably put too many carts in front of too many horses. For those who were there “back in the day,” there came a point where the Tony Hawk games just weren’t fun anymore - and not because people didn't like skating.
As they became a “churn-and-burn” enterprise, they became buggy, uninventive, or simply unplayable. By the time we hit that era of “accessory gaming” like Guitar Hero, the Tony Hawk series just wasn’t ready to get into that kind of physical gaming. To this day I remember when those game boards hit the shelves of the shop I worked at. And I remember when we started getting all of the returns for broken boards and had to take the games and accessories off the shelves. It was pretty wild reliving those memories within the context of this documentary but it was a pivotal moment for one of the greatest sports franchises signaling its slow eventual fadeout.
Pretending I’m A Superman may be brief, but it packs in a lot of material into those 70+ minutes. Considering the number of games and all of the great professional personalities involved, it could have been much longer - but also more unfocused. Ludvig Gur keeps the eye on the price as they say making sure key events are covered but not over-celebrated nor ignored. Like a great skateboarding fail video, the documentary highlights the bumps and bruises the games took over the years and is all the better for it. It also makes sure to leave on a note of great optimism highlighting the new generation of pro skaters who found the sport because of those games. Now all I have to do is find my stash of PS2 games and see if I still have Tony Hawk Underground 2 because there's no way I'm trying my longboard again after partially dislocating my shoulder.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Pretending I’m A Superman arrives on Blu-ray as a single-disc release from ETR Media and OCN Distribution. Pressed on a Region Free BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a clear case with reversible insert art and a ten-page booklet featuring images from the games and concept art. The disc loads to an animated main menu with standard navigation options.
Pretending I’m A Superman sticks the landing with an overall very appealing 1080p transfer. Given that the documentary features an amount of archival footage of varying sources on top of actual game footage from different generations of video game consoles, the overall visual aesthetic is solid. Obviously, the newer interviews with Tony Hawk and various other skaters and movers-and-shakers within the game’s development look the best of the bunch. The attention given to the actual game footage is welcome since it helps recapture the magic of playing those early-generation games. That’s where the visuals for this doc thrive by making you want to dust off the old consoles and see if you still have some moves.
On the audio side, we have a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track which is more than adequate for a documentary like this. Given that the film is mostly a lot of interviews played against game footage and archival event footage, there’s not much call for an aggressive surround track. Dialog is clean and clear without issue and when called for sound effects and music cues punch-up the soundscape.
On the extra features angle, there’s a fairly robust little package here. On top of a Director’s audio commentary, there’s about half an hour of deleted interview footage to absorb, a look at the Neversoft offices from high above, galleries, and probably the most fun is a look at the early Tony Hawk Mo-Cap sessions when the tech was relatively still in its infancy.
I never thought of myself much as a “gamer.” I like video games, but I don’t need them. Ever since I got a Sega Master System with the Rambo III gun game when I was six I’ve always had a system in the house for some casual pick-up-and-go fun but I was never invested in it as a real hobby. So as I’ve gotten to review more gaming documentaries I’m thrown back to the good ol’ days wishing I still had a few of those classic systems hanging around. Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story as a documentary may not be very long and it doesn’t dwell on its subject matter but it celebrates the highs and shines a light on the lows of the franchise. I came away learning a lot about one heck of a game series while wanting to scratch the itch of playing some old favorites. If you’re a fan of the games or love skating, this is well worth taking a gander at. Recommended.