I’ve unsuccessfully stepped on a skateboard maybe twice in my life, yet I’ve always been incredibly drawn to the sport, clocking in hours and hours of skating documentaries, films— and of course, ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ on the PS1. The draw of a game that requires no previous knowledge of the game or sport yet still allows you to still be successful after smashing a combination of buttons sat perfectly well with me—the competitive sibling— as I would scream lyrics from the now famous soundtrack (Dead Kennedys’ ‘there’s six of us babe so suck on my dick’ a personal favourite) to distract my younger brother from winning when we played multiplayer. My own personal experience with the game as a non-skating individual is likely not dissimilar to many others of my generation; Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater gave outsiders a small insight and access to the sport they previously never had, all the while introducing them to its infectious Cali-punk soundtrack and style— an entire subculture unearthed through a PlayStation game when the internet was only in its early days.
This is also the grounds upon which new documentary Pretending I’m A Superman is built. The documentary from young Swedish filmmaker Ludwig Gür (who would have been 2 when THPS came out in 1999) charts the development of the game series—spanning 5 Pro Skater titles and 12 other Tony Hawk’s games— and how the game gave a boost to skateboarding on a whole. The documentary acts as a wonderful precursor to the upcoming remaster of THPS 1 &2 which will be released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 4th.
Initially, the film takes a whistle-stop tour of the boom of skating in the 80s following the success of the Z-Boys in the late 70s. Z-Boy Stacy Peralta’s company Powell Peralta was influential in bringing skateboarding to the masses, through his careful promotion of the Bones Brigade videos that arrived just in time for the VCR boom of the 1980s: skateboarding was now something you could sell, and edging its way into mainstream consciousness.
Tony Hawk, other members of the Bones Brigade, skating legends and THPS featured skaters are all shown in talking head interviews that explain their own situations during the 80s boom and how they came to be involved with the game, and alternatively, their disappointment at being left out. Crucial interviews with Neversoft founder Mick Weft explain the process for finding a figurehead to spear a skating video game and how their relationship with Tony Hawk was formed. Hawk’s influence on the games’ development was undeniably important as the developers were able to film his vert skating to get the technical aspects of game play correct. There’s a particularly joyful moment when during the games development Hawk recalls landing the 900 at the 1999 X Games, never even fathoming to land it, let alone get it into the game play in a last minute rush before its release.
Bands that featured on the iconic soundtrack are also interviewed as to how THPS rejuvenated their careers. Licensed music in video games was pretty much unheard of at the time but the punk rock and ska soundtrack consisting of Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies and Goldfinger was a crucial final element in cementing the games success. Goldfinger lead singer John Feldmann recalls how their song ‘Pretending I’m A Superman’—one of the most recognisable on the game— allowed their band to ride a new wave of success after they noticed new fans at their gigs would recognise their one song off the THPS soundtrack.
Pretending I’m A Superman is not without its criticisms of the Tony Hawk’s franchise though. Many interviewees, most notably THPS 1’s Jamie Thomas, raise their issues with the proceeding games’ repetitive nature as the games always tried to capture the spirit of THPS 1 & 2, leaving the later instalments stagnant or underdeveloped, such is the case with the failure of the ‘Ride’ and ‘Shred’ games that used a skateboard peripheral instead of a controller.
As a sport that has mainly laid on the fringes of mainstream, there is always a clear divide in any skateboarding documentary you might come across between the idea of wanting to go mainstream as it results in careers for skaters, and the dreading idea of ‘selling out’. It often seems a sport at war with itself, that can only see the good things when they’re gone. The ethos of skating relies so heavily on innovation and always getting back on the board after a fall that these cycles of success and failure are bound to never quit. When the game play trailer dropped for the THPS 1 & 2 remaster, the hype was bigger than ever— partly fuelled by nostalgia and partly by the exciting developments in game graphics and technology, this remaster is a true metaphor for the sport itself. Pretending I’m a Superman is a wonderful companion piece to the upcoming game, and a documentary made for doting fans who are already enamoured with what the game series gave to them all those years ago.
Pretending I’m A Superman will be available on VOD from August 18th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She is a costume designer and trainee teacher living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Green Room and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Letterboxd here.