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Hollywood's missing 'Voice'

The death of Don LaFontaine, the man who distinctively voiced the trailers for movies, puts Hollywood in a perilous state. Who will -- who can -- replace him?

December 13, 2009|By Joe Queenan

On the surface, this was a pretty solid year for the movie business. But beneath the surface, things don't look so good. Hollywood is increasingly relying on steadily increasing domestic ticket prices to boost revenues. Fewer people went to see movies in the United States than they did three years ago; those who did go simply paid more. And lots of movies that did well overseas actually fared poorly when released in the United States. What accounts for this?

The low quality of movies is a factor, but that alone does not explain the listless mood of the moviegoing public. My suspicion is that many of the most ballyhooed films were dead on arrival not because they were especially bad but because moviegoers were never sufficiently motivated to go see them in the first place.

Was this the fault of the marketers? Perhaps. Was it the fault of the advertising campaigns? Possibly. But my own theory is that the reason so few people turned out for so many big-budget movies this year is because the man who did those amazing voice-overs in so many prominent movie trailers over the years died last year. And nobody has stepped up to take his place. As a result, trailers were uninspiring and moviegoers never got terribly excited about most of these films. That's how sorely the king of the voice-overs is missed. That's how much he meant to the industry.

You know the guy I'm talking about. You may not know his name -- Don LaFontaine (also known as "The Voice") -- but you certainly know his work. He's the guy with the ominous voice of doom who introduced thousands of previews by saying things like:

"Somewhere, in a land beyond passion, in a solar system beyond redemption, in a place this side of paradise but on the dark side of the moon, a hero above suspicion but beneath contempt will arise. He will start out as a legend. He will then become an icon. He will end up as a myth."

Ring a bell? Sure it does. And so should this:

"In a world of blood. In a time of plague. In a land of death. In a house of pain . . . "

The thing is, the guy was so good at this stuff that no matter how improbable the things he read off his script, you honestly believed him. He could get you to go see movies where Vikings on horseback gallivant around 9th century Newfoundland. He could get you to go see movies with names such as "Daddy Day Care." His cadences were so hypnotic, his timbre so seductive, that he could actually make you believe that Jennifer Love Hewitt films were worth paying for. After listening to him, I honestly felt that in a world of blood, in a time of malice, in a land of greed, in-a-gadda-da-vida, a warrior would arise and become not just a hero but a savior. And maybe a champion. And possibly even a myth. But at the very least an icon.

And now he is gone.

Not long ago I spent a week going to a different movie every single day. I saw lots and lots of trailers. And one thing I noticed was how much I missed LaFontaine's work. If "The Voice" had been doing the voice-over in the trailer for "Gamer," the film in which Gerard Butler is trapped inside a video game, I honestly think I would have gone to see it. If LaFontaine were still around to get the public revved up for "Law Abiding Citizen," the movie where Gerard Butler is trapped inside a prison, I might have gone to see that too. There's just no telling how many really bad movies starring Gerard Butler I would have gone to see this year if only "The Voice" were still around to convince me that they weren't going to be like all the other really bad Gerard Butler movies.

But he wasn't. He's gone. And we shall not look upon his like again. Much less hear his like again.

I don't want to be too hard on the new guys who are trying to take his place. They're doing their level best to pick up that fallen torch and run with it. They're giving it the old college try. They're taking their shot. But replacing "The Voice" with "Just Another Voice" is one tall order. This is like asking some scrub to come off the bench and replace Kobe. It's like asking Kenny G to sit in for Sonny Rollins. This is going to take time. This is going to take patience. In the end, this thing might not even work.

For now, I know only this: In a land of debt, in a time of structural unemployment, in a city of angels, in an industry of flickering green lights, a warrior will arise to lead Hollywood to the promised land.

But judging from the latest trailers, this could take awhile.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of "Closing Time."

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