It’s a fact that in certain situations a low budget can be a virtue. When a filmmaker stops fighting against his/her budgetary limitations and instead uses them to his/her advantage an odd and sometimes sublime aesthetic is created. Such an aesthetic is evident in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 sci fi classic ALPHAVILLE, whose private eye hero (Eddie Constantine) mans a spaceship that looks remarkably like a Ford Mustang amid the “futuristic” milieu of mid-1960s Paris, and also in 2011’s FLOODING WITH LOVE FOR THE KID, a beyond-threadbare adaptation of FIRST BLOOD by writer-actor-director Zachary Oberzan, who set the film in his apartment with household appliances used as props, resulting in a ludicrous yet endearing concoction. Such an effect is also achieved by the satiric German TV miniseries IJON TICHY, RAUMPILOT (IJON TICHY, SPACE PILOT).
IJON TICHY consists of fourteen episodes spread out over two seasons, one hailing from 2007 and the other from 2011. The second season is, as you might guess, more elaborate than the first, with each episode running twenty four minutes versus the fifteen minute episodes of season one, but the irreverent attitude and determinedly low rent aesthetic is maintained throughout both seasons. The series has attained cult status in its native Germany, having been nominated for several awards and given a deluxe PAL-formatted DVD release, but (surprise!) is almost completely unknown in the English-speaking world. That’s a situation that needs to change ASAP!
The basis for IJON TICHY, RAUMPILOT was a Stanislaw Lem authored series of texts (available in English in the collections THE STAR DIARIES and MEMOIRS OF A SPACE TRAVELLER and the novels THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS and PEACE ON EARTH) centered on the space pilot Ijon Tichy and his wacky adventures in the cosmos. The program takes a number of liberties with Lem’s texts, and adds a distinctly Gen-X sensibility, yet is nonetheless quite true to the comedic spirit of the Ijon Tichy stories, with the low budget production values presenting Lem’s far-out metaphysical conceptions in suitably bold and audacious visual form.
Tichy is played, memorably, by Oliver Jahn, who also wrote and directed each episode (together with Randa Jacobsen and Dennis Jacobsen), having previously done the same chores on two short films about Ijon Tichy in 1999 and 2000. As portrayed in IJON TICHY, RAUMPILOT, Tichy is a slacker residing in a space ship whose interior closely resembles a grungy bachelor’s apartment (the very one, FYI, in which Oliver Jahn was actually living at the time), with the navigation accomplished by a lever set into a computer desk, the dishwasher serving as a control panel and the shower a teleportation pod.
The ship’s exterior is a coffee-maker, which fits in well with a universe whose decor includes laser shooting glue guns, umbrella invisibility cloaks and flying bumper cars, and visual design that falls somewhere between that of HARDWARE WARS and FRAGGLE ROCK. Most striking of all is Tichy’s see-through holographic companion, who takes the form of an attractive young woman named Analoge Halluzinelle.
Halluzinelle is, in keeping with the series overall, pretty silly-looking in her skimpy pink jumpsuit and go-go boots get-up, but, as incarnated by actress Nora Tschirner (of GIRL ON A BICYCLE), registers as perhaps the hottest space babe this side of Princess Leia. The first season focuses primarily on the rocky relationship between Tichy and Halluzinelle, which turns out to have been a wise decision.
That first season also sees Tichy face down a hairy Muppet-like critter called a Kullup; deal with different incarnations of himself from each day of the week (thus allowing Tichy to discern if things have gotten done by what his self from a future date says–i.e. if his Tuesday self asks if something has been fixed that means the fixing won’t have happened on Monday); get virtually transported to a congress being held among alien tribes in which Tichy learns about the true origins of humanity; attempt to enter Halluzinelle in a Coolest Robot contest; and crash-land on a tropical planet where Tichy meets an individual with a highly unique take on his situation.
Season two takes place in a studio-set recreation of the apartment setting of season one (as Jahn had moved since filming it), and adds a couple more characters to the mix, including a cute furry creature named Mel and one Doctor Spamy, an alien critter represented by a guy sporting 3-D glasses and an aardvark nose. Tichy and Halluzinelle are also given a destination: the Egg Planet (consisting of a giant egg suspended in outer space), because Tichy has run out of eggs to fry for his dinner. Further craziness is manifested in the form of an alternate universe contained inside a vast blob, a planet populated by sentient household appliances, the attempted kidnapping of Halluzinelle by Spamy, the invention of a time machine that leads to all sorts of complications, an immersion on a water planet whose inhabitants worship a false deity, and a facing-down of Tichy’s own subconscious personas. In the final episode, a two-parter, Tichy is shrunk down to insect size as a vortex he inadvertently created threatens to devour the universe.
I don’t know if a third season of IJON TICHY was ever a possibility. The series certainly could have stood to gain more episodes, as quite a few interesting elements (such as the romantic tension between Tichy and Halluzinelle) are left unexplored, as are many of Stanislaw Lem’s Ijon Tichy stories (such as “The Twenty-Third Voyage” of THE STAR DIARIES, in which Tichy stumbles upon a planet whose inhabitants frequently transform into disembodied atoms and then reform themselves). Indeed, perhaps the greatest compliment I can give IJON TICHY, RAUMPILOT is that, in its current 14 episode form, it definitely leaves one wanting more.