It’s been a week since we learned about the passing of voice-over legend Hal Douglas at the age of 89. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then you probably don’t work in the marketing department of a film or television company.
Over the course of four decades Douglas provided the voice-over narration for hundreds, if not thousands, of movie trailers and promotional television spots. His list of credits is far to vast to list in total, but included movies like “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”, “Con Air”, “Die Hard”, “Forrest Gump”, “Four Feathers”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Meet the Parents”, “Men In Black”, and “Philadelphia” to name but a few.
Since Douglas’ death was announced I’ve heard it suggested repeatedly both in the media and in various conversations with industry professionals, that Douglas helped establish and was a part of a “golden age” of voice-over. Joining him in this unofficial category are the likes of Don LaFontaine, credited with creating the trailer catch phrase “in a world”, and Don Morrow, whose credits include “Fistful of Dollars”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Titanic”. Up until five years ago, and dating back to the mid-1970s, Hollywood studios and television networks relied upon this troika of talent so much that their deep bass busting style has become standard to the point of almost being cliché.
Douglas made light of his own omnipresent narration by appearing in a trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s 2002 documentary “Comedian” as a voice-over artist who only speaks in movie trailer colloquialisms.
With the passing of LaFontaine in 2008 and now Douglas, the argument being made is that an era of voice-over artistry has ended with them, and henceforth, all we’ll get is a string of artists trying to imitate these masters. While there is no disputing the talent of Douglas, LaFontaine, Morrow and their thunder throated contemporaries, when it comes to voice-over narration I must disagree with the notion that the timeframe in which they worked was anymore golden than those that came before, after or have yet to occur.
Like just about everything in life, and especially the arts, voice-over narration evolves from one set of overlapping characteristics to the next. Just as modernism spawned postmodernism or as the work’s of Picasso, the renown painter, transitioned from a monochromatic blue-green between 1901 and 1904 into cubist works by 1909, the time period in which Douglas was so prolific is defined by a style of voice-over that he helped establish.
Put another way, it’s not that Douglas was simply good at delivering “Voice of God” (VoG) narration, he actually created the style (along with others such as LaFontaine). With his passing, the style will shift slightly to match the taste of current audiences and the characteristics of whoever the next big voice-over talent is. Given the natural progression of marketing, design and popular culture, this new style will, in all likelihood, be close, though not identical, to that of Douglas and his peers.