Created By: Kooshmeister on February 22, 2017 Last Edited By: Kooshmeister on March 2, 2017
Troped

Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks

When scientists have loads and loads of lab glassware for showy purposes.

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"I have no idea what I need this stuff for, but I have it anyway!"

Morbulus: Very impressive. Looks like you've got everything a mad scientist needs right here.

What's the best way to visually demonstrate that a character is a man (or woman!) or science, mad or otherwise? Why, with tons and tons of flasks and beakers, of course! These are usually crammed everywhere conceivable in the scientist's laboratory, connected with spiraling glass tubing and usually filled with bubbling colored liquids, even if an experiment isn't actually in progress, and typically it's just there to be set dressing. Often, it's there to be dramatically smashed during a fight scene, an experiment gone wrong, or during the Mad Scientist's transformation. Bonus points if the scientist in question isn't actually a chemist, has no need of such equipment, and/or never actually does anything with it.

A Sub-Trope of Cow Tools.


Examples:

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll's laboratory features a long table of curly, curvy flasks, beakers and retorts, none of which he does anything with, focusing exclusively on the stuff on his desk at the opposite end of the room. As a bonus, there's a boiling cauldron heating over a fire for some reason. Pretty much any adaptation of Stevenson's novel will follow this trope, although the '31 film just has the most gloriously over the top example.
  • Many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories both in film and television will fill the background of Holmes' Baker Street flat with chemistry equipment. While this is true to the stories, in which Holmes would sometimes use them, in these adaptations, they're usually little more than set dressing. This tendency to overpopulate the flat with chemistry equipment was parodied in Without a Clue, when Reginald Kincaid (posing as Holmes) actually does do something with the chemicals - with hilariously explosive results.
  • Griffin in The Invisible Man, much like his counterpart in the novel, has a bunch of lab glassware on a table in his room at the inn, including a retort that seems to serve no purpose. The only piece of equipment he's ever seen doing anything with is a beaker he mixes something in.
  • In Werewolf of London, botanist Wilfred Glendon has a table in his laboratory (otherwise devoted to electrical equipment, his moon lamp in particular) that features among other things an enormous retort, several huge graduated cylinders, racks of test tubes with cotton swabs as stoppers, bottles of various liquids and powders, and the expected conical flasks and beakers. He never uses them, and they appear to effectively just be set dressing.
  • Krank's lab in The City of Lost Children has loads of goodies, including severed heads (presumably from failed clones) in jars.
  • The Nutty Professor (the original) begins with some truly glorious Scenery Porn of what appear to be experiments in progress, but are really just there to look cool over the opening credits as various colorful chemicals flow through tubes and bubble in flasks (before they explode). Kelp's laboratory throughout the film is chock full of more of the same, none of which is used (he drinks his concoction from a graduated cylinder). While transforming into Buddy Love, Kelp staggers over to the table containing his eyecatching but functionally useless equipment and smashes it to pieces.
  • Sokurah has a lot of (slightly anachronistic) chemistry (alchemical?) equipment in his lab in his castle in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, including a really fancy Crystal Ball. A lot of it comes to a bad end; a table of flasks and beakers is smashed by a wayward swing of the living skeleton's sword, and even more of it gets shattered to bits when a stuffed Apothecary Alligator falls off the wall and lands on it (courtesy of the skeleton's flung shield). Sokurah himself smashes his crystal ball later. The various equipment is just there to look pretty and get smashed; besides the crystal ball, the only thing Sokurah uses is a mortar and pestle.
  • In The Black Scorpion, the only thing Dr. de la Cruz uses his test tubes for is to make tequila.

    Films — Animated 
  • In The Pagemaster, a mural depicts Dr. Jekyll (from the book) surrounded by this sort of brick-a-brack. When the characters actually visit Jekyll's mansion, although his "laboratory" is limited to just one table in what appears to be his living room, it's filled to overflowing with all manner of cartoonish-looking lab glassware, none of which Jekyll actually uses (mixing his infamous potion in a martini glass of all things).
  • There's a goodly amount of chemical glassware in Zootopia in the subway car where the sheep Mooks distill the Nighthowler serum. There's an extended tracking shot of a fresh batch of blooms yielding their bluish juice through tubing and distilling flasks until being formed into the ammo for a tranq gun.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: Basil has a chemistry setup in his home, which he actually uses to determine that Fidget's burglary list has come in contact with salt water, leading Basil to deduce that Fidget frequents a sleazy pub "where the sewer meets the riverfront." In fact, when Ratigan snares Basil in his ambush, he chides Basil, "Trouble with the chemistry set, old boy?"
  • The All-CGI Cartoon Igor shows chemistry glassware in Dr. Glickenstein's castle, though this Mad Scientist tends to use motors, metallurgy and electricity for creating monsters. Given that the nation of Malaria runs on a Mad Scientist-based economy, the chemistry setup is likely a standard-issue feature of their castles, along with a Torture Cellar and Shark Pool. One early unused poster for the movie even had the letters of the title formed out of spiraling chemical glassware.
  • Mr. Ages' laboratory in The Secret Of NIMH features a ton of (human-sized) chemistry apparatus filled with bubbling concoctions which he's seen using once, to prepare a medicinal powder for Mrs. Brisby's feverish child.
  • Yzma's "secret lab" in The Emperor's New Groove not only features a lot of spiraling glass tubing running throughout the room, but also shelves and shelves of literally a thousand and one bottles of her "poisons" (read: various magical potions). They're all pink in color and are very poorly labelled. Lampshaded by Kronk.
  • Dr. Finklestein has some of this kind of stuff in his Mad Scientist Laboratory in The Nightmare Before Christmas, most notably a big, globe-shaped flask with a severed hand floating in it. He never uses any of it, but he does loan it to Jack Skellington along with a microscope to use for his Christmas experiments.

    Literature 
  • In H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, there's a chapter entitled "The Thousand and One Bottles," wherein Griffin drives Mr. and Mrs. Hall nuts with how much chemistry equipment he sees fit to fill his room at their inn with. And apparently he had to get a lot of his stuff on the fly, since, aside from a rack of test tubes and a laboratory-grade scale, most of the stuff he's using is repurposed from more conventional household items including salad oil bottles.
  • Just about any given cover for Frankenstein or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will have this in full effect. The Berni Wrightson edition of Frankenstein goes one step further; all depictions of Victor Frankenstein's work area throughout the book are so chock full of glassware that they can serve no practical purpose to Frankenstein whatsoever, and, indeed, seem to play no role in his work.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Goosebumps episode "The Haunted Mask," when Carly Beth sneaks into the back room at the costume store, the shopkeeper has a chemistry set on a table for no readily apparent reason which passes by in the foreground. All of the vessels are filled with a bright blue liquid. We later learn he makes the haunted masks himself (and indeed his backstory in the Goosebumps Collector's Cap Book pegs him as a failed chemistry student), but the glassware in the episode doesn't seem to serve much purpose besides being set dressing because the shopkeeper never uses any of it or alludes to its role at all.
  • Both the heroes' and villains' bases in Bibleman feature flasks and beakers of brightly-colored liquids which they rarely, if ever, uses.
  • In H.R. Pufnstuf , Dr. Blinky has a laboratory featuring various beakers, flasks, test tubes, retorts, etc. , which he uses in the first episode to brew a magic potion for Jimmy and Pufnstuf to use against Witchypoo and her sentient tree minions. One of these test tubes is sentient.

    Video Games 
  • Dr. Andonuts from EarthBound has several beakers and flasks on both of the desks in his lab, despite only shown working with machines.
  • In the SNES Jurassic Park game, there's one room in the visitor's center that has shelves and shelves of flasks and test tubes. Neither they nor the room they're in serve any purpose to the story or the gameplay. You can't do anything in the room except look at the pretty bubbling chemicals.
  • During the Mad Doctor stage in Mickey Mania, flasks, test tubes and retorts are used as scrolling foreground filler. Mickey does eventually have to mix some chemicals in a hilariously oversized beaker to blow up a door.

    Western Animation 
  • SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron:
    • Dr. Viper's laboratory in "The Giant Bacteria," is pretty impressive to behold, featuring retorts, racks of test tubes, flasks, beakers and even a microscope that for some reason has smoke pouring out of the eyepiece (!). Besides this, bottles and flasks are stuffed into boxes and cubby holes everywhere in the background. Interestingly, production notes called for even more chemistry equipment to be seen, but for some reason the animators didn't get the message.
    • Professor Hackle's lab is especially egregious. Although a little more toned down than Viper's, he nevertheless has a table on which can be seen a retort and several flasks and test tubes. One problem. Hackle is a machinist/roboticist, so what he needs chemistry equipment for is anyone's guess. They're just there to inform us he's, like, a scientist and such, even though the operating tables and Kenneth Strickfadden-esque machinery filling the rest of the room do the job just fine on their own.
    • The Pastmaster has some of this kind of stuff on a table in his tower in "Bride of the Pastmaster," but he never does anything with it, instead using a big cauldron in the middle of the room.
    • Megakat Biochemical Labs as seen in "Katastrophe" has shelves and shelves of "katalysts" in identical stoppered flasks with numbered labels. In all its other appearances, it's more toned down.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • In "On Leather Wings," when Batman confronts Dr. Kirk Langstrom, there's a long table covered in lab glassware, in particular two huge globes of purple liquid that connect to one another and nothing else, seemingly serving no purpose. Langstrom uses nothing on the table, instead taking the formula he uses to become ManBat out of his Lab Coat Of Science And Medicine. When he transforms, he of course smashes everything on the table, then picks up the table itself and throws it at Batman for good measure.
    • An ever more complicated-looking array of flasks, test tubes and beakers connected by spiraling glass tubes is seen in "Terror in the Sky." Oddly, all the liquid in them is green (perhaps the colorists were lazy). Once again, Langstrom doesn't do anything with them, but at least this time, they don't get smashed.
  • Dexter's laboratory in Dexter's Laboratory is a treasure trove of this kind of thing.
  • In one episode of X-Men, Morph is performing a play version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde onstage, using his shapeshifting powers for the show. Whoever the propmaster for the play was went above and beyond the call of duty, considering Morph's lab table is covered in tons of beakers of colored liquids.
  • Parodied in Tiny Toon Adventures in the episode "Hare-Raising Night." There's a panning shot of what appears to be Dr. Gene Splicer's laboratory, with a bunch of spiraling glass tubing and oddly-shaped chemistry equipment (flasks, beakers, etc.) in the foreground... only for the pan to continue and reveal it's just a painting, titled "Dad's Place." Dr. Splicer's actual laboratory is a surprisingly mundane office building (the giant vat of "gene juice" aside).
  • In a Chuck Jones-era Tom and Jerry short where Jerry concocts a Super Speed potion, in the background there are a bunch of flasks for aesthetic purposes.

Community Feedback Replies: 55
  • February 22, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Figured there needed to be a trope for scientists having lab glassware, considering that stuff is such a staple of laboratories in fiction. My proposed page image would be a still from a Doctor Dreadful Drink Lab commercial. I just hope it isn't too close to a "People Sit In Chairs" kinda thing. I mean, of course scientists use glassware; this trope would be mostly reserved for their use as a visual prop to inform the audience/reader/player of the character's profession.
  • February 23, 2017
    PsiPaula4
    Holy hell, did we really not have this? That said, I think this needs a better name, I would have had no idea what this trope was if there was no laconic.

    • Dr. Andonuts from EarthBound has several beakers and flasks on both of the desks in his lab, despite only shown working with machines.

    Edit: Just saw the Trope Namer in the Literature folder; I think the name suffers from Trope Namer Syndrome, there's no way to tell what the trope means if you're not familiar with The Invisible Man.
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Well, I still think it works as a title, but okay.
  • February 23, 2017
    PsiPaula4
    ^Without the context, it's impossible to tell what it's referring to by "bottles."
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Fair enough. I just can't think of another name that would emphasize the overabundance of glassware. My only other suggestion is that old standby "Flasks of Colored Liquids."
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    But on reflection, I think that name is a little too close to "Technicolor Science," so my vote is still for "Thousand and One Bottles unless someone comes up with something better.
  • February 23, 2017
    arbiter099
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    That's a little too broad; the trope is meant to refer specifically to chemistry equipment.
  • February 23, 2017
    sailing101
    ^ that's a little too narrow. Also, what does this do to tell a story?
  • February 23, 2017
    TonyG
    Suggesting Beakers Of Science as a title.
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Sure, I'll go with that.
  • February 23, 2017
    alnair20aug93
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    And, sailing101, the idea is it's for chemistry equipment explicitly used as set dressing to visually show that the character is a scientist, even if they're not a scientist who'd ordinarily use such equipment, such as machinists and roboticists, and in particular when there's an overabundance of them.
  • February 23, 2017
    sailing101
    I ask because the mods have been cracking down on trope proposals that can be described as visual traits rather than story elements. This is one such proposal.
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Ah, I see. Hmm. Well, we'll see what happens.
  • February 23, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    And, alnair20aug93, I really like that!
  • February 24, 2017
    Arivne
  • February 24, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film Animated
    • There's a goodly amount of chemical glassware in Zootopia in the subway car where The Dragon distills the nighthowler serum. There's an extended tracking shot of a fresh batch of blooms yielding their bluish juice through tubing and distilling flasks until being formed into the ammo for a tranq gun.
  • February 25, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film Animated
    • Basil of Baker Street, a/k/a The Great Mouse Detective, has a chemistry setup in his home, which he actually uses to determine that The Dragon's burglary list has come in contact with salt water, leading Basil to deduce that The Dragon frequents a sleazy pub "where the sewer meets the riverfront." In fact, when The Villain snares Basil in his ambush, he chides Basil, "Trouble with the chemistry set, old boy?"
    • The All CGI Cartoon Igor shows chemistry glassware in Doctor Glickenstein's castle, though this Mad Scientist tends to use motors, metallurgy and electricity for creating monsters. Given that the nation of Malaria runs on a Mad Scientist-based economy, the chemistry setup is likely a standard-issue feature of their castles, along with a Torture Cellar and Shark Pool.
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    I think I'm gonna stick with the original title because it's both a reference to the novel (something TV Tropes does all the time), and it emphasizes the AMOUNT of lab glassware.
  • February 25, 2017
    sailing101
    Before you do, be absolutely certian that you can prove that that's not a case of Trope Namer Syndrome. We Formerly did that all the time, but now it's a big taboo.
  • February 25, 2017
    AmourMitts
    Exactly where does the image come from?
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    A Doctor Dreadful commercial. I just thought it was amusing.
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Well, I'm unsure how I can in fact prove it isn't Trope Namer Syndrome (even if it is named for a chapter in a classic novel). If a better name that aptly describes the multitude of the apparatus comes along, I'll be all for it, but for the time being I'll have to insist that the current trope name does the trick.
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Eh maybe it is Trope Namer Syndrome, but it seems mostly everyone agrees this is a good trope, we're just stuck on the name. Again, though, "The Thousand and One Bottles" (to me) perfectly covers the notion of "a lot of lab glassware" (even if, I admit, chemistry equipment isn't immediately what people think of when they hear the word bottle). Perhaps a slight change? The Thousand and One Beakers/Thousand and One Flasks, something like that?
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Bunches of Beakers? Just throwing ideas out there, heh.
  • February 25, 2017
    PsiPaula4
    Like I said, I never read that novel, so when I first saw the title, I had no idea it refers to lab glassware. You even said it yourself, when someone thinks of the word "bottle," they do not think of chemistry equipment.
  • February 25, 2017
    DrNoPuma
    Subtrope of Cow Tools.
  • February 25, 2017
    Arivne
    Lots Of Laboratory Flasks or Lots Of Laboratory Beakers, to make it clear that this is about a laboratory setting?

    Or Lots Of Lab Flasks/Lots Of Lab Beakers for short?
  • February 25, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Sure, that'll work. You understand, I still like "Thousand and One Bottles," but I'm willing to compromise.
  • February 26, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Tiny correction on The Secret Of NIMH: Ages uses that elaborate setup once, to prepare the medicinal powder for Timmy, Mrs. Brisby's youngest, who lies abed with a fever.
  • February 26, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Huh, I just remember him using the mortar and pestle. Oh well. I'll fix it.
  • February 26, 2017
    superjerk28
    Hey, Kooshmeister, do you think we should launch the trope now?
  • February 26, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Up to you guys.
  • February 26, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Sorry for being an idiot, but... how DOES one launch a trope, anyway?
  • February 27, 2017
    SeptimusHeap
    <Mod hat>

    Seems like you found out, but I've backed it out as the naming issue needs to be settled.
  • February 27, 2017
    Larkmarn
    Laboratory Full Of Beakers works for me.

    Also, I think some distinction needs to be made between needless beakers and necessary lab equipment. A lot of the examples boil down to "they use glassware in a lab" which isn't inherently a trope since, well, they use glassware in labs.
  • February 27, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    My other suggestion, as mentioned elsewhere, is Flasks Of Colored Liquid.
  • February 27, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    There, met you halfway; Laboratory Full Of Flasks.
  • February 27, 2017
    alnair20aug93
    Compare Billions Of Buttons, another scientific aesthetic. I could suggest Billions Of Beakers to make it alliterative, but then again, that would sound like a bad snowclone.//

    I remembered a Chuck Jones era Tom And Jerry short where Jerry concocts a Super Speed potion, and in the background, are a bunch of flasks for aesthetic purposes.
  • February 27, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Actually? Billions of Beakers sounds great... and what's a snow clone? XD
  • February 27, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Possible Indexes for this new trope: Artistic License Chemistry, Hollywood Science, Setting Gimmicks.
  • February 27, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Okay, so do we have a consensus on the name now?
  • February 28, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Yea? Nay? :)
  • February 28, 2017
    PsiPaula4
    ^^^^A Snowclone is when a trope is named after another trope. Snowclones are generally frowned upon, and you can see why by reading the Everythings Worse With Snowclones article. However, not ALL snowclones are bad, there are some acceptable ones, mainly it's when you don't need to know the meaning of the original trope to understand the snowclone. I'm not 100% sure though, I need to hear someone else's opinion.
  • March 1, 2017
    NateTheGreat
    Sorry, I'm against the name. Alliteration has killed clarity in this case. Billions Of Buttons gets away with it because most of the controls are buttons, and it really does seem like there are billions of them. In labs its more like Hundreds Of Pieces Of Laboratory Glassware Including Beakers Flasks And Test Tubes. I can't suggest anything better, sorry.
  • March 1, 2017
    Getta
    What about Gratuitous Beakers?
  • March 1, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    I'm eager to just get this dang trope launched under SOME name at this point, so why not a slight variation on the original suggested name, addressing Psi Paula 4's concerns: "The Thousand And One Flasks" or "The Thousand And One Beakers" instead of "Bottles." That way, the number and gratuity of the items is retained, the context is made clear, and it is no longer a direct reference to The Invisible Man. How 'bout that?
  • March 1, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    And if that's STILL too close to Trope Namer Syndrome for you guys' concerns, eh, I'll just flip a coin and choose between Flasks Of Science or Gratuitous Beakers.
  • March 1, 2017
    PsiPaula4
    I like Gratuitous Beakers because it emphasizes that the glassware is mostly useless and only to show that the person is a scientist, regardless of whether or not they are shown actually doing anything with them. Actually, how about Gratuitous Lab Glassware? Since there are many other types of lab glassware besides beakers.
  • March 1, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Changed to Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks. Are there any objections to launch?
  • March 1, 2017
    nazcapilot
    I think the title you chose is fine. In my mind, there's no need to flog a dead horse any further.
  • March 2, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Okay, then. Unless someone has any further objections to the name I'll launch it tonight sometime.
  • March 2, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Okay, then. Launching it and hoping for the best. :)
  • March 2, 2017
    Kooshmeister
    Launched! Working on getting it crosswicked and whatnot.
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