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'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater,' a video game that defined a generation, gets its own documentary

Tony Hawk’s reached one of the more enviable places in pop culture. Who wouldn’t want to be a pioneer in their field, amass a huge fortune, and still go unrecognized at the airport? Later this month, he’ll be in a public place where every person in the room should know his face: the Mammoth Film Festival. On Tuesday, Hawk announced on Instagram that Pretending I’m a Superman, a documentary about the immortal Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game series, will be premiering at the festival on February 29. He’ll be in attendance for a panel with Rodney Mullen and the filmmakers to discuss the film.

Pretending I’m a Superman, which takes its name from Goldfinger’s “Superman,” a staple of the original game’s soundtrack, has been in the works since 2016. Former Neversoft producer Ralph D’Amato teamed up with Swedish filmmaker Ludvig Gür for the independently financed documentary. It tracks how the broader skateboarding industry was in a perilous place in the early ‘90s, before becoming further mainstreamed with the X Games and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. Aside from Hawk and Mullen, the film features interviews with Steve Caballero, Chad Muska, and many more involved in the popular video game series.

It’s tough to understate the impact of this franchise. Although the original game came out 21 years ago, almost nothing since has matched the sheer gameplay rush of those early installments. It peaks around THPS3 — a game I still play monthly — where Neversoft refined its arcade style to its quickest, most fluid pace, with some incredibly imaginative goals, before diving headfirst into story mode with Pro Skater 4 and the Underground installments. No attempt to recapture this magic in recent years has really landed (Ride and Pro Skater 5 were largely considered two of the worst games of their respective years,) but sometimes the original pleasures don’t need updating.

Punk and skate culture were always inextricable, but began to reach a wider tent than ever before in the wake of the Tony Hawk games. The Pro Skater soundtrack bred an entire new generation of punk, ska, and hip-hop listeners and skaters, and in at least one case bred an actual cover band dedicated to performing songs from the games. That group, The Downhill Jam, is also set to perform at an afterparty for the documentary premiere. It all makes for the endearing sort of nostalgia appeal, and a strong reminder that few subcultures are too niche to take a chance on.