Sam Rockwell is the Trickster God of Science Fiction

The other evening I finally got around to watching Gentleman Broncos, a movie whose cup runneth over with oddballery. (See: the picture to the right.) In it, Sam Rockwell plays the embodiment of a science fiction novel hero jointly imagined by other, just as strange, cast members.

The movie itself is…definitely something, but what really struck me, as I watched Rockwell fly through the air on the back of a rocket-powered antelope, was that I had been here before. It’s only now that Sam Rockwell has reached a saturation point where I’ve noticed. But now that I have, he’s everywhere.

Behold his appearances in a good percentage of your DVD collection:

Character: Sam Bell (x3)
Film: Moon (2009)
Demeanor: Professional, placid, frustrated, aching. Half office drone/half astronaut/half zombie.
Notable For: Playing against himself not once, not twice, but thrice in one movie and effectively carrying the entirety of it. For displaying a subtlety as an actor in that he portrayed different shades of himself without making it comic or absurd. (As he is wont to do in other films.) For making a sci-fi film more stirring and haunting than a million Avatars.

Character: Zaphod Beeblebrox
Film: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005)
Demeanor: Space cowboy, drunk, horny, occasionally genocidal (well-meaning)
Notable For: Being the best part of a well-intentioned but still arrhythmic adaptation of a science fiction comedy classic and therefore introducing Sam Rockwell to the world stage as an official lovable sumbitch. In space.

Character: Guy Fleegman
Film: Galaxy Quest (1995)
Demeanor: Goofy, cocky, pestering, scared scared scared scared
Notable For: Being the redshirt in a cunning lampoon of Star Trek and somehow not dying. Also for being the fanboy that makes good and becomes an integral part of the revival of his favorite series. Sam Rockwell…he gets all the roles we want!

Character: Justin Hammer
Film: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Demeanor: Soulless but needy, hawkish, infuriating
Notable For: Being one of the bad guys in a huge summer science fiction/comic book blockbuster? He’s certainly gaining prominence. And his presence in a Jon Favreau movie is already paying off with…

Character: Doc
Film: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Demeanor: Considering that he’s a saloon owner who gives up his trade in order to fight aliens: I’m guessing cowboy. Versus space.
Notable For: Being let loose in a movie about cowboys fighting aliens in the 19th century, as directed by Jon Favreau and written by Damon Lindelof. (Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name.)

Over and over again, Sam Rockwell appears as the jester in our science fiction and genre movies, and almost always with his own characteristic humor. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before he’s a sci-fi trope unto himself (if it hasn’t happened already). It makes me wonder if we’re in for a critical mass of Sam Rockwell soon. That all of a sudden, he’ll be in every genre movie making sure that the slapdash, the harmlessly incomprehensible and the hyperactive are fully represented.

But if he plays Loki in the upcoming Avengers movie, then I quit.

Chris Greenland thinks it takes a brave man to want to be publicly associated with antelope.


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