Last Monday, the career of Hollywood’s hardest working actor came to an end. While you’ve almost certainly heard his work, you probably wouldn’t recognize his face — or even his name.
Don LaFontaine was the voice behind more than 5,000 movie trailers. His nicknames included “thunder throat” and “the voice of God.” He died of a collapsed lung at age 68.
His résumé contains a diverse selection of movies, television shows, video games and products. His voice is the one you hear at the beginning of “Law and Order,” on “America’s Most Wanted,” on trailers for films like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and on hundreds of thousands of television and radio spots for a variety of products.
After working on radio commercials for “Dr. Strangelove” in 1962, he helped start one of the first companies to deal exclusively in motion picture advertising. During this period, his most popular catchphrase, “In a world …” was born.
The “In a world …” voiceover has since become a dreaded cliché. Now, it’s a sign of a sloppy or lazy trailer. It’s often used to set up a joke. For instance, the voiceover will say “In a world where evil forces rule …” then you’ll see a dancing chipmunk, groan loudly and leave the theater to refill your popcorn.
The phrase has been so overused that it’s easy to forget how effective it is. In a 2007 interview, LaFontaine explained the strategy behind his catchphrase.
“We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to. 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,” LaFontaine said.
Trailers have a bad reputation with many people. They are the reason people show up late to movies, a good time to talk to your date or a last-minute chance to send a few text messages before the feature starts. For others, trailers are a perfectly packaged piece of entertainment. They are like little movies. The best trailers keep you interested and entertained.
Even crappy movies can have great trailers. They showcase the best features and scenes of a movie, and if they do their job, they convince you to spend your money on a ticket a few weeks later. Unlike bad films, bad trailers only last a few minutes. Even the worst of the worst are relatively painless.
Today, the best trailers avoid the voiceover altogether. They either let the film sell itself or they simply show a single scene. (See the most recent trailer for “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” for a great example.)
LaFontaine’s contribution to Hollywood is immeasurable, even if the style he originated has grown stale. In 2006, in a rare appearance on the other side of the camera, he starred in a Geico commercial, providing a dramatic voice for the story of a customer’s accident.
Most people won’t remember his face, but they will remember his voice. As the the single busiest actor in the history of the Screen Actors Guild, he certainly left his mark on the industry.
Brendan Praeger is a fifth-year student in secondary education, journalism and English. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.