- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2023

Director Steven Spielberg‘s homage to himself dazzled critics but sank at the box office in the fall of 2022.

The multiple Academy Award-nominated movie now looks for an audience with home theater owners in the ultra-high definition disc release of The Fabelmans (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 151 minutes, $34.98).

The coming-of-age, semi-autobiographical period piece covers Mr. Spielberg‘s fascination with cinema mainly through his 1950s childhood and 1960s teenage years as depicted by avatar Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle).

Hooked on cinema as a child after seeing “The Greatest Show on Earth” and, specifically, the famous train crash sequence in a movie theater, Sammy becomes obsessed and terrorized by the event.

His mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) indulges his fear and fascination by giving him a Super 8 camera to recreate the disaster with toy trains, and a budding director is born.

A complex family dynamic with plenty of dysfunctionality follows as computer engineer dad Burt (Paul Dano) does not see Sammy making a living with his “hobby” while the free-spirited, concert pianist mother encourages her son to unleash his creativity.

The tale delivers plenty of Spielberg reality such as the parents divorcing, Sammy creating an award-winning war movie for a Boy Scout troop and his dealing with Jew-hating bullies at a California high school — but it also takes some liberties with the director’s early life.

For example, the entertaining portrayal of Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), a former circus lion tamer and silent film actor, has an exaggerated role of a mentor who reinforced the importance of Sammy following his dreams and his artistic inspiration.

For me, the heavily family centric adult drama only really started to shine when away from the clan and near its end when Sammy, now a college student, was offered the chance to meet legendary director John Ford by a CBS executive working on “Hogan Heroes.”

The very funny and terse encounter was apparently word-for-word real, and I could have used more of a young Spielberg dealing with the Hollywood machine.

Ultimately, “The Fabelmans” offers a slice of Americana with a thick nostalgic bent that allows a poignant window into a movie magician’s evolution.

4K in action: In the screen-bursting presentation, viewers get some meticulous detail courtesy of the visual upgrades of living in the 1960s through clothing, set decoration and vehicles.

Equally fun is watching the various film stocks used by Mr. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński translated into the 4K format.

The movie often comes across with a meticulous love for color and lighting easily witnessed by the importance of a Super 8 film projector bulb ancillary glow literally setting the emotional temperature of a scene, or an outdoor scene of a beach party with the crispest of blue water behind the sand.

Best extras: If ever I could have used a director’s commentary, it’s certainly with a film covering the life of the director.

Also, no luck, but the 4K disc does offer a trio of satisfying featurettes (roughly 50 minutes in total) covering the production and the story with plenty of screen time with Mr. Spielberg discussing the project from its origins to cast, his selection of film cameras, period design and the intricacies of living in a family.

Still, come on, Mr. Spielberg, if ever there was a need to deliver a commentary track, this was the movie.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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