In 2023, it would be fair to say that Steven Spielberg is a household name. His body of work as a filmmaker transcends generations and has been entertaining moviegoers for decades. I am certainly a fan, and as such, I was very interested in his latest, The Fabelmans. The semi-autobiographical film revolves around young Sammy Fabelman, Spielberg’s onscreen doppelganger. Most of the story takes place in post-World War II Arizona where Sammy and his family live before relocating to Los Angeles after his father, Burt, accepts a job offer.
Inspired by Spielberg’s own childhood, the narrative follows Sammy through his formative years and into young adulthood. Its coming-of-age themes include supporting anecdotal threads that reveal the basis for Sammy’s inspiration and love of filmmaking, as well as the life he shares with his parents, two sisters and other key characters within their inner circle.
The screenplay covers meaningful periods in his early life, during which the central relationships necessary to the plot are established, before settling into the pivotal year of 1964. Sammy is a high school senior, an accomplished amateur filmmaker, and struggling to fit into his new environment in California. At its heart, The Fabelmans is a deeply personal project that takes a snapshot of life as seen through Sammy’s eyes. It depicts a bright, driven young man, the love of family, and the conflict and turmoil that can affect our course in life. I loved how the various films Sammy makes with the participation of his friends and family are interwoven, serving alongside the characters as a catalyst that speaks to the points of familial discord, artistry, and social connection.
The cinematography adds a defining element that enhances the wonderful chemistry and interplay between the actors while contributing to the spirit of the film. I watched The Fabelmans with my wife and we both found its subject matter, period story, and emotive center to be heartwarming and evocative.
Per Mr. Spielberg’s well-documented preference, The Fabelmans was shot on film and finished on a 4K Digital Intermediate for its presentation on Ultra HD Blu-ray. This is a period-based story with a visual aesthetic which is presented quite naturally in 4K. It’s a lavish film that adheres to color grading that is underscored by Janusz Kaminski’s beautiful cinematography.
Colors are vividly reproduced, with deep blues and succulent reds, while variants of sepia and soft secondary hues embrace the settings featured in the era-specific story. The increase in resolution is appreciable, especially the wide-angle shots of Arizona, which look simply terrific. Closeups tend to offer refinement and deeper resolvable textures on objects within the frame and upon the physical features of the members of the cast.
The Ultra HD presentation did not, however, make visually compelling use of high dynamic range. Certain brightly lit interior and exterior sequences offer the slightest hint of added punch but in general, specular highlights were nowhere to be found. I did find that the gradations within shadows and darkly lit environs had appreciable dimension and resolvable detail. The fleshtones were rendered beautifully over the course of the presentation.
This is primarily a dialogue-driven film. However, there are moments within the story that require use of the entire sound platform, and so the track’s ability to clearly render them is essential. That dialogue is reproduced with transparency and proper balance within the front soundstage, while the greater 7.1-channel surround mix capably replicates the many acoustic elements associated with the environments portrayed onscreen. The surround channels contain a mixture of spatial ambience and musical extension, combined with directional panning cues that effectively support the front soundstage. Overall, this is a solid and complimentary listening track.
Bonus features include three production featurettes, including Spielberg’s reflections on his inspiration for the film. An HD Blu-ray disc and a Movies Anywhere digital code round out the package. The Fabelmans isn’t among Steven Spielberg’s definitive works, but it’s an architectural character study deserving of recognition.
Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray
STUDIO: Universal, 2022
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
HDR FORMATS: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMATS: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
LENGTH: 151 mins.
MPAA RATING: PG-13
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
STARRING: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Judd Hirsch, Mateo Zoryan