The Fabelmans, 2022.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, and Judd Hirsch.
Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, the quasi-autobiographical The Fabelmans, arrives on 4K Ultra HD via Universal. A Blu-ray disc is included too, along with a code for a digital copy. The extras are light, but maybe this one will elicit a more feature-packed release at some point.
I suppose it was inevitable that Steven Spielberg would eventually make a movie like The Fabelmans. How could he not turn the focus on himself at some point, especially given the traumas in his childhood that shaped the lens through which he saw his movies as a director?
The movie opens on a seminal moment in the life of Sammy (later preferring to go by Sam) Fableman: a trip with his parents to see Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952. Mesmerized by a scene involving a train crashing into a car, Sammy seeks to recreate the moment with his father’s film camera after receiving a train set for Hanukkah.
His father Burt (Paul Dano), an engineer who hopes his son will follow in his footsteps, is frustrated by Sammy’s actions, but the boy’s mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), is a pianist and dancer who understands what her son is trying to do. She facilitates another attempt at filming the scene, and soon the young boy is hooked on making movies.
The family later moves to Phoenix, bringing along Burt’s engineer co-worker and friend Bennie (Seth Rogen), and a teenage Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) starts making more complex films with his Boy Scouts troop. If you know much about Spielberg’s formative years, you know he made a lot of war movies as a kid, and those moments are recreated here as Sam shows his ability to envision, film, and edit movies that are screened for the scout troop and their parents.
Another career move by Burt lands the Fabelmans in northern California, where Sam encounters virulent anit-Semitism at the hands of the jocks at his high school. He stops making movies for a while after learning a terrible secret about his mother, but he eventually begins again, with help from his girlfriend. The story of Sam’s journey to Hollywood culminates in a meeting with famous director John Ford, played by David Lynch in a delicious cameo.
The Fabelmans is quasi-autobiographical; there are plenty of elements drawn straight from Spielberg’s life, but others have been changed to accommodate the narrative arc. It’s the kind of story that’s not so much about the main character changing as it is about him changing others around him, from his parents to the high school bully who he elevates to exalted status in a student film about “ditch day.”
That influence essentially acts as shorthand for the way Sam will eventually affect many millions, if not billions, of filmgoers throughout his career. This is a film about the magic of movies and the effect it has on both creators and audiences. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for that kind of subject matter, but your mileage may vary.
Universal has issued the film on 4K Ultra HD with an accompanying Blu-ray disc and a code for a digital copy. Given the movie’s recent vintage, it looks beautiful and will remain that way, thanks to modern technology. Eventually, the need to restore old films will come to pass, and that’s a good thing.
The bonus features found here are rather scant and, as always, Spielberg eschews doing a commentary track. There’s no commentary found here at all, and now that I think about it, I don’t recall finding a commentary on any of the other Spielberg films I’ve given a spin on disc, so I suppose it’s something that he doesn’t want anyone participating in when it comes to his work.
Here are the extras you’ll find, all of which are, of course, presented in 4K too:
• The Fabelmans: A Personal Journey (11 minutes): This featurette grounds the viewer in the basics of the movie’s creation, from its origins to what elements of his personal story Spielberg did and didn’t want to include.
• Family Dynamics (15.5 minutes): I found the casting worked here, except Seth Rogen, who always just seems like the same guy with the goofy laugh. That’s fine when he’s playing a certain kind of character, but he doesn’t quite work as an engineer. Anyway, this featurette digs into the casting of the major players in Spielberg’s life.
• Crafting the World of The Fabelmans (22 minutes): This is a relatively quick tour through how the cast and crew made the 1950s and 1960s come alive, along with other items of note, such as John Williams’ score, Lynch’s John Ford scene, and the emotion of filming an important scene on the one-year anniversary of Spielberg’s father’s death.
The film’s trailer rounds out the bonus features.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★