Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of Jaws was its epic finale. The final sequence of Steven Spielberg’s classic gave audiences an unforgettable conclusion to an unforgettable film. But what makes a masterpiece ending? What about a finale leaves audiences cheering through the end credits?
Today, I’d like to analyze the ending of this film, and compare it to the finale of another Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park, to see exactly what makes these films go out with a bang (in the case of Jaws, literally).
First off, every finale needs to start somewhere. There’s always a moment where the film is kicked into high gear. In Jaws, this is marked by the shark’s final assault on the Orca, and the death of Quint. This sequence is possibly one of the most horrific in the film; Quint’s death is one of the most drawn-out and nightmarish in the franchise. Robert Shaw’s performance, the animatronic work, the cinematography, and the lack of music all work together to make this scene incredibly disturbing. It sets up the following sequence perfectly. Importantly, this scene leaves Brody alone, and the story has reached its darkest, most hopeless point. Similarly, Jurassic Park drops the characters in the deep end. The kitchen sequence is one of the most tension-filled scenes on film, and it flawlessly establishes the raptors as a threat to be reckoned with. In both films, the characters are suddenly left with few places to run, and death could be around any corner.
Jaws ensures that the tension does not let up by bringing the shark front and center. Brody’s life is put in direct danger, while the rest of the film has kept him relatively safe. The sinking of the Orca gives him a limited time to take out the threat, and the shark is now actively trying to kill him. As the audience, we care about Brody; we want to see him get out alive, so this segment leaves us on the edge of our seats. In Jurassic Park, this segment is essentially a chase between the raptors and the humans, making their way through the visitors’ center. As Brody ascends the mast of the Orca, Grant and the others descend the collapsing skeletons of the visitors’ center. (Jaws also does something that Jurassic Park does not: it sets up the villain’s defeat, with the compressed air tank landing in Bruce’s mouth.) The action is gripping, and it keeps the audience excited for the impending conclusion.
Then, the finale must have the epic final moment- the climactic, do-or-die confrontation that resolves the tension that the film has built up. In Jaws, Brody takes aim at the approaching shark, as the Orca descends into the sea. We know that if the threat is not eliminated by the time Brody hits the water, he’s as good as dead. It’s a life-or-death situation, which makes the eventual resolution all the better. As Brody fires at the tank, it’s desperate; he misses, again and again, the music builds, and our collective hearts are in our throats as the shark draws closer. And then:
“Smile, you son of a-“
Boom. In a sudden moment, the conflict is over. The shark’s demise is spectacular; what better way to end a film than with an explosion, after all? Brody’s epic one-liner is almost hilariously badass, and it’s perfect for the finale. The shot of the shark’s remains slowly sinking drives the point home that it’s finally over; the monster that we’ve come to fear is gone, and we can finally rest easy. Brody’s borderline-maniacal laugh reflects our relief and wonder. John Williams’ genius score departs from its terrifying tone to something entirely different: the music here is beautiful, and it reflects the mood of the scene perfectly. As the audience, we are, quite simply, happy.
Jurassic Park’s epic moment is not dissimilar. Our heroes are cornered by the raptors, nowhere to run. It seems there’s no way out, no way our heroes could possibly be saved.
Then, out of nowhere, the real star appears to save the day. The Tyrannosaurus Rex’s appearances in this film are the epitome of jaw-dropping sequences, and this finale is no exception. We hear the grand, heroic theme as good ol’ Rexy tears into the raptors, and we are captivated by the action as the humans make their escape. Grant lands his epic final line, and we cut back to the dinosaurs. It’s a scene that can hardly be described with words, which is a testament to Spielberg’s fantastic direction. Rexy’s final roar is almost like an epic one-liner all to itself, and as the banner falls, we couldn’t ask for a better send off.
After the climax comes the conclusion: that short moment that lets us calm down after the film, and gives us the closure we want for the story we’ve just seen. In both films, we are greeted by quiet, peaceful music as the characters ride off to safety. It’s a final farewell to the characters we’ve come to love, and both films do it flawlessly. In Jaws, Hooper returns, giving us a small emotional moment when he learns of Quint’s demise. Then, the two start swimming towards Amity as the credits roll, and when they finally reach the shore, you can’t help but smile. Jurassic Park takes us off the island the same way we came- on a helicopter. It’s a powerful moment, with John Hammond accepting the death of his dream as the dinosaurs are left behind. Both movies have a bittersweet element to them, but they also give us hope: hope in the face of the terrifying events we have seen, and an overwhelming feeling that everything is going to be alright.
Now I’m going to look at some of the themes present in the films, and how their respective finales use them. In Jaws, a main theme we see is conflict between people, and how disagreements can get in the way of success. In the end, this is resolved as Brody and Hooper settle their minor qualms with each other, working together to return home. They’ve had their differences, but they become friends. We even see them set aside their differences with Quint, both showing a respect for the deceased man. To look at another aspect of the film, the finale gives Brody the chance to take matters into his own hands. Throughout the whole film, we see Brody getting stepped on by the mayor, the townspeople, and even Quint to an extent. All he’s wanted to do is help people, and in the finale, he is the one responsible for saving the day. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, keeps matters out of the hands of the main characters. One of the film’s main themes is that life cannot be controlled. People cannot play god, and nature is entirely out of our control. In this vein, the finale of the film is out of control of the humans. They are saved by a force of nature, something that they do not control and which doesn’t care about their well-being. Assuming I’m not reading too much into things, it’s a fascinating way to look at these films, and it gives these conclusions a depth that they probably didn’t need to be great.
Any great film needs a great conclusion, so what makes Spielberg’s endings so great? These finales work because they don’t let up for anything. They build up tension to a breaking point, leaving the audience both amazed and terrified, before rewarding us with theatrical awesomeness that resolves the conflict and leaves us applauding. These finales give closure to the characters we love, and settle the thematic elements that made the films so interesting. That is what a great finale looks like, and Spielberg is a master of making it memorable.
There ends my analysis of the finale of Jaws. It goes without saying that these films will forever be loved, for so perfectly balancing realism and crowd-pleasing awesomeness to create something that is, above all else, fun. Happy trails, readers, and remember: stay out of the water.
By Sean Riddle
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