The Fabelmans Blu-ray Review: Steven Spielberg’s Cinema Paradiso

It’s hard to imagine what cinema would be like without Steven Spielberg’s presence. He’s the man who created the first blockbuster (Jaws) and continued to have great success in bringing some amazing stories (no pun intended) to the big screen. Spielberg is that rare director who is both versatile and ambitious. One year, he’ll serve up an epic blockbuster. The next (or maybe even in the same year), he’ll bring us something that is aimed at securing a few Oscar nominations. Whether you’re a fan of his work or you only appreciate select titles, there is no denying that he has certainly made an impact on many filmmakers. And at 76, he’s still working on at least one film a year – even if it’s one he’s not directing.

The Fabelmans plays like an autobiography of Spielberg’s life and a tribute to the medium he loves the most. The names of most of the characters may have been changed, but the story is very much about Spielberg. All one must do is peruse his Wikipedia page to see where his life story matches what is portrayed in the movie, and it’s basically parallel. Plus, there are several nods to his earlier work (E.T., for example, in one very touching scene), and the actor they got to play teenage Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) is a near-spitting image of the Oscar-winning director.

Starting off in 1952, Burt and Mitzi Fabelman (Paul Dano and Michelle Williams, respectively) take their young son Sammy (at this point, played by Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord) to see his very first motion picture, The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is terrified by the big train crash that takes place during the movie, but it also mesmerizes him to the point where he wants to recreate it and rewatch it over and over. After receiving a model train set for Christmas, and borrowing his father’s 8mm camera, Sammy is able to recreate the scene and watch it whenever he pleases. This triggers his creative side, and he soon begins filming everything around him.

There is some predictable conflict that arises, such as when Burt’s computer job has him relocating the whole family to Arizona. Plus, when Mitzi’s depression worsens, some other instances arise that create tension in the family. The Fabelmans doesn’t have many big plot surprises, but it is crafted with that nice Spielberg touch that makes it both lovely and entertaining.

The cast is terrific, with LaBelle doing fine work as teenage Sammy. Dano’s work as the father who’s doing the best he can is heartbreaking at times, and Seth Rogen, who plays Burt’s good friend Bennie, is excellent in a rare dramatic turn. But it’s Williams who steals the show as the supportive mother who is facing her own demons.

The Fabelmans may be Spielberg’s most personal film, but it doesn’t quite strike the same emotional chord as other films he’s made. It pays respectful tribute to Spielberg’s childhood and what inspired him to be the director he is today. But it also feels like there should be more to it than what we get as the final product. As it is, however, The Fabelmans is a charming feature that has your usual Spielberg quirks and a terrific cameo near the end of the film. Plus, the final shot, while kind of expected, is one that will leave a smile on your face.

The Blu-ray release for The Fabelmans comes with a nice visual presentation. The 16×9, 1:85:1 aspect ratio captures the scenery perfectly, and the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track captures the sound and music wonderfully. There are only a few features that come with this release – which mostly focus on behind-the-scenes moments and cast interviews.

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David Wangberg

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