The name Don LaFontaine might not mean much to you, but his voice certainly will. The raspy, deep voice intoning that a cop has one last mission before he retires, or warning you of the consequences of your life no longer being your own, or ominously setting the stage for some horror/sci-fi/thriller, or, yes, preparing you for a world slightly askew from the everyday belonged to Don LaFontaine. The Guy from the Trailers. The Master of Voice Over. Or, simply, The Voice.
Don LaFontaine died yesterday. He was 68.
In his passing left a gaping hole in American movie culture. It's one that is going to be impossible to fill. Not only did he record over 5,000 trailer voiceovers, Don LaFontaine's voiceover work in movie trailers is so synonymous with movie trailers that when you see one and don't hear his from-the-chest delivery you immediately think something is wrong. If such a thing is possible, he is an auteur -- the auteur -- of the movie trailer voiceover.
Like any auteur, Don LaFontaine had to hone and refine his voice -- literally, in this case. Listen to how his voice and approach change from the time of Terminator in 1984 to Terminator 2 just over a decade later:
In the Terminator trailer, you can hear the beginnings of something -- "In this city, under cover of darkness..." -- but his deliver is so... pedestrian. Ominous, yes, but this is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller from a teetering-on-the-edge-of-apocalypse decade. Ominous rules the day. But in the T2 trailer, you get the phrasing -- "Same make. Same model. New Mission." -- and you get the slightly nasally, mostly otherwordly delivery that was Don LaFontaine's trademark. In cinema terms, this is like John Ford discovering that his storytelling style should be centered on the male-dominated unit. It's not a stretch to compare Don LaFontaine and a John Ford. They both left an indelible mark on a genre -- the voiceover, the Western -- and after them most other entries into that genre will feel like mere emulation.
More than his iconic delivery, what made Don LaFontaine an icon was his ability to poke fun at himself. This Geico commercial is an example of how much fun Don LaFontaine has with his persona:
Don LaFontaine was a legend. After all, how often do people get worked up over the passing of a voiceover artist? (To be fair, the Micro Machines guy will be a major loss.) On his Web site, there is a quote about Don LaFontaine from Ashton Smith: "When you die, the voice you hear in Heaven is not Don's. It's God trying to sound like he's Don." Hyperbole? Maybe. But as of yesterday, there are sure to be some interesting voice-offs upstairs.
For more on Don LaFontaine, check out this autobiographical video: