Written by: Hannah Tran | August 17th, 2020
Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story (Ludvig Gür, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Skateboarding-focused films seem to be on the rise, but not all of us remember the way the sport was before it became the subject of the wildly popular Tony Hawk’s video-game series. Tracing the beginnings of the current era of skateboarding, Ludvig Gür’s documentary Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story weighs the power that the game had in reshaping the way that we think about skateboarding and the spirit of the sport itself. But while it acts as a phenomenal survey of the history of the game, its overly informative but frustratingly shallow approach does its subjects little justice.
The level of access this documentary has to the stars of the skateboarding world is what largely justifies its existence. Without its incredible interviews, this movie is nothing. Often, these interviews provide relatable, heartbreaking, and inspiring looks into what the video game meant to them and the skating world. Other times, they feel repetitive and as though they aren’t adding as much to the conversation as the film wants you to believe. It’s the film’s inability to logically condense its abundance of material that makes the film veer into “DVD bonus content” territory.
But while the film has such intimate primary sources to anchor itself, it often relies too heavily on this interview component and neglects seeking out impactful secondary sources. As the film goes on, its research feels lazier and lazier, the director at a number of points resorting to highlighting words on a computer screen to demonstrate simple ideas. Nevertheless, the way the movie incorporates skateboarding footage, both old and new, and its approach to visually make them seamlessly flow into one another, is impressive.
The film benefits from the elapsed time and nostalgia that comes with that. The skaters’ ability to reflect back on how the game not only shaped their sport, but how it shaped the future of video games, is fascinating to hear about. And Gür further does a good job at weighing the unexpected positives of the game in popularizing the sport and pushing its boundaries, as well as the small tragedies that it had on the skaters who didn’t participate in its creation and the general spirit that unified skateboarders before it.
Although the documentary doesn’t dig enough to truly comment on any of these things, the topics that it raises through its subjects are surely interesting starting points. While I’m not sure whether it will provide much more to chew on than what hardcore fans of the game will already know, the ideas that its subjects present are emotionally effective and will undoubtedly transport its loyal fans to a time they won’t hesitate to return to. It’s just a shame that the film itself couldn’t do a better job to package and fully develop any of its own reflections on that time.