Eugoogly: Don LaFontaine, The Voice of America
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 3, 2008
This time, it’s for real
On the list of people who have most shaped the pop culture of these United States while remaining completely anonymous to 99.9% of American audiences, the recently deceased Don LaFontaine would really have to rank up there with 2 Unlimited, Ivan Reitman (pre-son Jason’s oscar nod, anyways) and John de Mol–and he didn’t even have the excuse of being European. But if you don’t recognize the name, or the picture above, there’s probably a pretty good reason for it (besides the fact that he looks like recent Billy Joel, except even older and having gone through an even more harrowing adolescence)–LaFontaine’s claim to immortality is his work in counelss numbers of movie previews, where his booming, gravitas-laden voice would lend excitement and credibility to literally thousands of movie previews, ranging from Oscar-winning classics like The Godfather Part II to mediocre blockbusters like Cheaper By the Dozen.
If the name still isn’t ringing any bells, and you imagine that LaFontaine’s contributions were likely interchangable and inconsequential, I have but three words to offer you:
“IN A WORLD….“
Got it now, huh? Well, if you don’t see those three words and instantly hear the thunderous timbre and musical cadence of LaFontaine’s voice in your head, then you better minimize this window quickly so that your boss doesn’t see you futzing around on the internet and fire you, thus ending the only thing lending meaning to your heartless, joyless existence, you fucking drone. The three words that kicked off a countless number of sci-fi, horror and heavy drama flicks, they also function as LaFontaine’s de facto catchprhase, the appeal of which LaFontaine had recently tried to summarize:
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.
Literal enough. In any event, even though I probably couldn’t point to a single movie that actually used the phrase to sell itself, the phrase quickly entered my cinematic subconscious, and when me and my brother finally found out that the same guy did the voiceover for all of these, we started sending each other random “IN A WORLD…” text messages and cracked up every time.
The interesting thing, sort of, is that LaFontaine had actually started to achieve a kind of reluctant visibility by the time of his death. His voiceovers became more self-referential, as when he berated Homer for copying his narration in the Simpsons Movie preview–banking on the fact that his voiceover technique was so well batted into the public’s brains that no further explanation was necessary. More notably, the man started showing his smiling face on TV as well, most visibly in GEICO’s IITS #1-rated celebrity commercial, which would later be referenced by LaFontaine in appearances on both The Tonight Show and Frank TV. We might’ve only been a few years away from cameos in the Apatowverse.
Sadly, LaFontaine died yesterday, resulting from a collapsed lung. It’s hard to imagine who will be expected to take over the action movie trailer mantle now–Morgan Freeman seems the most obvious choice, but he’s no spring chicken himself, and the workload may just be too much for any one man to take over without some sort of platooning. It’s doubtful it’ll be the same, anyways.
R.I.P. Don “IN A WORLD…” Fontaine, 1940-2008
(By the way, for those curious–“Let’s hope he now lives ‘in a world’ where people know his name is Don LaFontaine” is the best the Celebrity Death Pun & Conundrum Society could come up with. Feel free to try to better it.)