In a film loaded with great scenes, Jaws has one scene which tickles my personal fancy each time I see it. On board the boat with the scientist, the fisherman and the bumbling sheriff - the sheriff accidentally unties the wrong knot and causes canisters of compressed gas to roll across the deck. The scientist screams at the sheriff to be careful, saying that he could have blown them all up if the canisters were punctured. The fisherman mocks the scientists and questions the usefulness of the canisters, mumbling about what good the canisters might do and suggests the shark - which they are hunting - might eat them.
While this scene does a number of things - such as reinforce allegorical characters Spielberg continued to use through many of his films such a primitive man (the hunter or fisherman), modern man (the scientist) and everyman (the sheriff), the scene also uses a fictional device Spielberg makes frequent use of it many of his films: foreshadowing.
In this scene, Spielberg tells us exactly what is going to happen in resolving the film. But you don't know it yet. In fact, he reinforces this a little later one when he shows the canisters rattling and the looks of concern.
As with the first flying scene in ET - which alerts us to how one of key conflicts will be resolved, the canister scenes that foreshadow the end provide us with an internal logic that we later nod over as appropriate. Without the set up scenes of the canisters in Jaws or the flying bicycle in ET, the solution would seem contrived. We are not shocked when the sheriff shoves the canister into the shark's mouth and then shoot the canister resolving the conflict. Nor do we feel cheated when the bicycles take flight in ET just when the authorities close in. Foreshadowing prepared us.
In Poltergeist, the burial and digging up of the bird - while possessing a host of symbolic meanings - also helps foreshadow the bodies floating up from the bottom of the pool later - as does the graveyard scene on the top of the hill, where the evil developer says he intends to build more housing. The bone digger in Jurassic Park tells us exactly what to expect later when the mighty hunter in slain by using a scene that seems innocent if cruel near the beginning. The bone digger in scaring the child explains how one particular dinosaur hunts his prey, then later shows that dinosaur killing the hunter in that fashion.
Internal memory - viewers or characters remembering past events within the tale - is a valuable story-telling device that tightens and strengthens a work. Such foreshadowing details can come to us through a variety of ways, repeated sounds, visual symbols, even allegorical representations.
While I am still a novice student of Spielberg films, I am certain that additional study of his work will reveal a mingling of these references that evolve into a web work through which the end is foreshadowed repeatedly.
One of the most obvious visual foreshadowing is the constant references to Devil's Tower in Close Encounters. We continually get the image in mash potatoes, paintings and trash sculptures - as well as the image on the television set - before the character actually reaches the place itself. While this has a slightly different use in the plotting of the film than the canisters in Jaws or the flying bicycles in ET, the effect provides the film with visual unity.
In ET, the girl tells the mother exactly what the scientists will do to "the goblin in the shed" when they finally catch up with him. This is reinforced by the school scene with the frogs. The frog scene, of course, serves multiple foreshadowing purposes, because it also forecasts what Elliott's reaction will be and gives us his logical reaction later when he helps free ET just as he helped free the frogs. ET is loaded with visual foreshadowing and framed by the take off and landing of the mother ship to the repeated depiction of keys at the adult man's belt - a metaphor for locks and secrets so typical of the adult world.
Foreshadowing, whether the visual repeated pattern of Devil's Tower in Close Encounter or the music of the shark attack in Jaws, are only the most obvious techniques used for tightening his films, but one that is critical.