In a world without the Voice

You might not know who Don LaFontaine was. If you had seen him on the street you likely would not have recognized him. His name did not evoke the grandiose of action heroes, the fluttering pulses of heart throbs or the excitement of socialites. But then again, LaFontaine was not an artist in the spotlight. He operated not in front of a camera, but behind a microphone, on soundstages and in recording studios. He was an obscure name in the film and television industries. But you know Don LaFontaine. You have grown up hearing his voice.

In his 33 years in the entertainment business, LaFontaine (known to many as the Voice) recorded the voiceovers for 750,000 TV commercials and over 5,000 movie trailers. That gravely baritone, so uniquely his, ushered in the fall and summer movie seasons and riled the audience during the coming attractions. LaFontaine was as much a part of filmmaking as anyone. He was a tried and true veteran of the industry. And I already miss him.

LaFontaine died Sept. 1 of complications due to a blood clot in his lungs. The 68-year-old continued working well into his later years, even making a rare on-screen appearance in a Geico commercial in 2006. It was a self-parodying performance that poked fun at the often intense voiceovers of movie trailers and that cliché phrase that LaFontaine himself made so ridiculously well-known: “In a world where…”

“We have to establish the world we are transporting [the audience] to,” LaFontaine said of the phrase in 2006. “That's very easily done by saying, ‘In a world where... violence rules.’ ‘In a world where... men are slaves and women are the conquerors.’ You very rapidly set the scene.”

Narration is not as common in movie trailers nowadays. More often, the trailer will be accompanied by text or simply rely on snippets of dialogue from the film. But as far back as the 30s and continuing long into the 90s, movie trailers were narrated by people like LaFontaine. And there is no doubt, no feasible argument—LaFontaine was the most gifted artist in his field and shall remain uncontested even after his death.

Personally, losing LaFontaine has affected me greatly. As a child, it was his distinct voice that got me excited at the cinema. In my head, LaFontaine narrates my life: “In a world where Matt is late for his 9:15 class and didn’t eat breakfast.” The man was a presence. He was everywhere, dabbling in every aspect of entertainment, a voice so familiar and yet unknown to most. With trailer voiceover phasing out and now this untimely passing, I feel as though it is the end of an era.

Films are advertised differently now. One has only to look at the viral campaigns of films like Cloverfield or The Dark Knight to realize that the business has changed. But LaFontaine will not soon be forgotten. He leaves behind a 33-year legacy of consistently amazing work. In terms of his impact, I think the obituary says it best:

“The omnipresent baritone and gravely bass undertones of Don LaFontaine’s distinctive voice had the unique ability to seamlessly embellish big-screen kisses, slice through over-the-top explosions, perfectly pair with robust musical scores, glide alongside car chases and effortlessly co-star with any A-list talent in Hollywood.”

LaFontaine was often quoted as saying that he did not care if people knew his face or his name, but that he hoped they knew his voice.

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