Originally published September 2008 on Obit-Mag.com.
You probably don’t know Don LaFontaine’s name, but you certainly know his voice.
The man who voiced more than 5,000 movie trailers and coined the oft-parodied “In a world…” intro, a true voice-over master, Don LaFontaine, died on Monday, September 1. He was 68.
LaFontaine reached the apotheosis of meta-cultural self-parody in 2006, starring in a GEICO car insurance commercial, where he narrated the travails of an ordinary woman’s insurance claim with his distinctive, gravel-voiced, melodramatic locution.
Through the course of a quarter-century career LaFontaine created his own genre of film promotion. Essentially, he took the large swaths of sensationalized text plastered atop images in older trailers (think of East of Eden’s trailer “The Temptations that made the other brother, become the other man!”) and spoke them. Loudly. LaFontaine often wrote his own scripts for trailers, and was equally adept at comedies, thrillers and dramas, his malleable voice sprightly portraying either murder or mirth.
Action, of course, was his mainstay, and the mid-1990s saw the emergence of CGI-assisted James Cameron, Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer-type films, like Terminator 2 and Independence Day, that demanded LaFontaine’s booming voice to counterbalance the gigantic explosions. The pairing of voice and visuals bordered on the absurd, and an entire cottage industry of comedians sprung up to poke fun.
LaFontaine's career began modestly, however. Originally a film editor, he was forced into the voice-over booth for the 1964 western, Gunfighters of Casa Grande, when the original talent failed to show up. Soon enough, he was doing television and radio ads (over 750,000 by his count) and setting up shop as a singular talent in the voice-over arts.
And so LaFontaine’s career came full circle: from unnoticed industry journeyman, to a necessary talent, to a symbol of cultural excess, as fully embraced as parodied.
From all accounts, Don LaFontaine was a hard-working, extremely affable professional. In his own fashion, he changed the way we watch movies. So next time you sit through the previews, noisily opening bags of candy and chomping on buttery popcorn, remember Don LaFontaine. Maybe even pour a little of your soda onto the theater floor.
Here’s a smattering of some his best work.
The Geico Commercial, turning the quotidian into the epic:
The Trailer for Terminator 2
, classic CGI-excess:
The trailer for Fargo
, some humor mixed with your homocide:
And a nice interview with the man, his Mephistophelean eyebrows jump delightfully: