Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks

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Morbulus: So, this is the secret lab of the legendary Dr. Viper.
Dr. Viper: Quite an eyeful, isssn't it, Morbulusss?
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!) of 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 has no need of such chemistry equipment, and never actually does anything with it.

A Sub-Trope of Cow Tools. They're almost required to show up in a Mad Scientist Laboratory.


Examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • One of the earliest examples of this trope is the Queen's laboratory in Snow White. Some red liquid cackles (!) when heated over a bunsen burner.
  • In The Pagemaster, a mural depicts Dr. Jekyll (from the book) surrounded by this sort of bric-à-brac. 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). Memorably, when the characters walk past them, the audience's view of them through the layers of glass and liquid are hideously distorted like in a funhouse mirror - except Horror, who looks ravishingly handsome.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Universal was quite big on this sort of thing in their science fiction and horror films, particular the films under the Universal Horror umbrella.
    • In Frankenstein, although there isn't an excess of chemistry glassware on hand (promotional stills are another matter), there's still a bit of gratuity with some flasks. Just before bringing the Monster to life, there's a brief bit where Henry Frankenstein goes and pours something into a flask, swishes the contents around, nods in satisfaction, and sets it down. He never does anything with it or returns to it again.
    • In Bride of Frankenstein, quite a few scenes involving Frankenstein's conversations with Dr. Pretorius are filmed so that the two actors are seated or standing with a table covered in excessive lab glassware between them and the camera. Most prominent is an enormous retort (which Universal's prop department would reuse in many films, including the same year's Werewolf of London). The glassware serves no purpose in any of the duo's work, and is just there to be interesting-looking set dressing.
    • 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 - and then throws. He has a lot more in his old regular lab, seen when Cranley and Kemp visit it in one scene.
    • 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 (reused from Bride of Frankenstein), 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 (although one publicity still does show the transformed Glendon seeming to do something with the big retort).
    • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man uses bubbling flasks and beakers of chemicals in its opening credits sequence. None, or very few, appear in the film proper, though.
    • Tarantula: Deemer's at-home laboratory has an impressive array of big retorts and curly glass tubes.
  • Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein features a nice array of curvy Victorian retorts and such in the attic laboratory of Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein. Loads of bright, colorful liquids and heavy on the dry ice, it's definitely a feast for the eyes.
  • 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.
  • 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. José de la Cruz uses his test tubes for is to make tequila.
  • I, Monster: Marlowe's laboratory is a treasure trove of Victorian-era lab glassware.
  • Frankenstein Conquers the World follows Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man's example and begins with an impressive opening credits sequence of the camera following chemicals flowing through different flasks and tubing. In the Cold Open of the actual movie, meanwhile, Nazi scientist Dr. Lisendorf's lab is filled with a lot of chemistry glassware containing brightly colored liquids. He smashes it all in a rage when Frankenstein's heart is confiscated.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie opens with a close-up shot of flasks filled with steaming, bubbling liquid — then the camera pulls back to show the rest of Dr. Clayton Forrester and his lab. No explanation for the flasks is ever given.
  • Darkman: Being a scientist, Westlake has tons of beakers, flasks, test tubes and the like, most of which gets trashed. As Darkman, he salvages what he can to continue his work. Interestingly, during a Montage depicting him working, Sam Raimi makes the interesting stylistic choice to have beakers and test tubes fly by to indicate the passage of time.
  • The Splice O' Life genetics lab in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Although it features real chemistry equipment, there's a cartoonish excess of it (unsurprising given the tone of the movie), with every available flat surface covered in elaborate chemistry setups.
  • Friar Lawrence in the 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet has a desk covered in quite a few interesting-looking (and impractical) retorts and bottles, shown prominently during the scene where he is giving Juliet the sleeping potion. The shots of Juliet from Lawrence's P.O.V. make a point of showing her surrounded on all sides by the Italian Renaissance-era style glassware. Interestingly one of the items is a very anachronistic modern Erlenmeyer flask filled with blue liquid.

    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 Bernie 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 not only seem to play no role in his work, but realistically, would actually impede him.
  • Goosebumps had a few cases of using this trope to sell books, but unfortunately they were often a case of Covers Always Lie (a recurring problem with the series as a whole).
    • The original cover art for Stay Out of the Basement featured a leafy green-skinned human hand reaching out from the titular basement. It was done by Jim Thiesen and was one of the few covers not done by regular artist Tim Jacobus. For the 2003 reprint, the cover art was completely redone, this time by Jacobus. It what basically amounted to a tree wearing clothes holding a flask of orange liquid, with this trope in full effect behind him with a table covered in so many flasks it's difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. In any case, in the actual book, no chemistry equipment is ever mentioned.
    • The Goosebumps 2000 book Jekyll and Heidi, drawn by Tim Jacobus, shows a man transforming into a kind of pig-faced monster standing amidst tables covered in lab glassware, some filled with green liquid, while a terrified girl watches in the background. While it's far more toned down than Jacobus' effort at the cover for Stay Out of the Basement and does (kind of) represent a scene in the book where Dr. Palmer Jekyll tests a chemical on himself in search of a cure (the actual monster is his daughter Marianne Jekyll and it's less of a Jekyll & Hyde story than it is a werewolf story), the actual lab as described in the book is very utilitarian and the only glassware actually described is the test tube Palmer drinks from.
    • The Choose Your Own Adventure series Give Yourself Goosebumps featured two covers of gratuitous flaskery (is that a word?), and neither really featured any descriptions of such things in the text.
      • Mark Nagata's The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eeek showed a maniacal chimpanzee in a lab coat squatting on a table covered in glassware (a flask heating over a bunsen burner and a rack of test tubes) mixing chemicals together in test tubes although all the vessels shown contain green liquid, so nothing is actually being mixed. In the actual book, the eponymous Dr. Eeek's lab is presented as relatively utilitarian.
      • Nagata's cover for Diary of a Mad Mummy shows the titular "mad mummy" writing in his diary (helpfully labelled "My Diary"), and on the table in front of him are things similar to the ones on the Dr. Eeek cover: glassware filled with green liquid (Nagata wasn't terribly creative when it came to chemical colors). Thanks to the big blurbs "Choose from over 20 different scary endings!" and "Boo, dude! Reading's a scream!", most of it is obscured, however a postcard set featuring Goosebumps cover art showed the full artwork. In any event, the only bit of chemistry equipment described in the book is a single beaker.

    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, use.
  • 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.

    Toys 
  • Doctor Dreadful, the Slime, Snails, and Mutant Tails Spear Counterpart to the Easy Bake Oven, thrived on this. Subverted in that they were actually (usually) functional, although they were clearly invoking the "loads and loads of lab glassware" idea many people have of mad scientists.
  • The Aurora models in the 1960s based on various horror and science fiction properties (particularly Universal Horror) loved including gratuitous flasks and other such brick-a-brack wherever it could as part of the models' scenery, justified or not. They've been reissued many times, most notably by Polar Lights.
    • Most famously, "The Bride of Frankenstein* included a shelf behind the Bride's operating table which featured a very large retort (referred to as a "distilling flask" in the instructions) with a distilling head attached to a flask by a glass tube and a bottle with plastic "smoke" coming out of it, and on the floor were a measuring cup and a "bound flask" (as per the instructions, a large, round vessel with metal bands around on it), and a big, curved bulbous condenser.
    • "Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde" (based, more or less, on the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was a little more conservative. Besides the Erlenmeyer flask being held by the transforming Jekyll, there were, on a rather smallish table, a big round flask and a smaller one connected by a tube, a rack of test tubes, and a knocked over beaker complete with "spilled chemicals." The box art depicted a lot more goodies on the table, and many people were disappointed by the paltry offerings of the original kit, so a few third party companies have, in the last few years, been offering "expansion sets" of even more flasks patterned after the ones on the box art, to make Jekyll's little table less bare.
    • "The Witch" (not based on anything in particular) features the usual big cauldron and assortment of potions in jugs.
    • The Monster Scenes line of model kits, released alongside the previously described models and eventually discontinued thanks to Moral Guardians, featured a character named Dr. Deadly. Deadly himself didn't really come with anything, but there was an accessory set called "Gruesome Goodies" which featured the usual flask, beaker and test tubes with racks, but also included, of all things, a titration burette with a stand for it and a very large jar containing a "sabre tooth rabbit."
      • The fanged rabbit was apparently supposed to be used as an accessory for Monster Scenes' Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kit (which was only released in Canada for some reason); the idea being that the rabbit had been given some of the "Jekyll juice" as a test.
  • Aurora never did a model kit based off of The Invisible Man (either the novel or the Claude Rains film), so Moebius Models did an Aurora-themed kit called "H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man." As its name implies, it's based more on the original novel than the Universal film, and they apparently drew on the chapter titled "The Thousand and One Bottles" for inspiration, because dear old Mr. Invisible (posed in the middle of removing the wrappings which render him visible) have so much stuff that he puts Aurora's efforts to shame. Not only is there a table with a retort, a graduated cylinder, a mortar and pestle and a flask with "smoke" coming out of it (similar to the bottle in Aurora's Bride of Frankenstein), but also an adjacent bookshelf crammed with loads of beakers, bottles and books, plus a human skull and a terrarium with partially-invisible lab rats. Not quite the "thousand and one" vessels from Wells' book, but it's a lot.
  • Silent Screamers was a toyline put out by Aztech Toys and later Mezco which focused on silent horror and sci-fi properties (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, etc.), and Mezco did one based very loosely on the 1920 John Barrymore Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The accompanying display base was two-sided; a street scene for Hyde and a lab scene with a table for Jekyll. The Jekyll side came with two beakers, a long-necked flask Erlenmeyer flask, a large round flask, a small round flask, a distinng flask, and a rack of test tubes, from which the individual test tubes could be removed. The flasks were all also designed to be interchangeable with a stand for "heating" chemicals over an included candle.
  • Diamond Select did two sets featuring the same chemistry equipment:
    • The first was a figure of Grandpa Munster from The Munsters. He came with a big retort filled with yellow "liquid" on a stand, a beaker, three labelled, stoppered flasks labelled "Rain" (blue), "Love Potion" (Green) and "Dragon's Blood" (purple, oddly enough), a test tube rack with removable test tubes (similar to Silent Screamers' Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde above), and a big graduated cylinder.
    • They also did did a variation on their Mr. Hyde from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, featuring a figure of Boris Karloff as Dr. Jekyll. He came with (mostly) the same goodies as Grandpa, with differences in the colors of the "liquids" inside them (notably the contents of the retort became green), one of the flasks was discarded in favor of a really big syringe, neither of the remaining two were labelled anymore and one was painted silver to suggest it was made of metal.
  • Todd McFarlane's Monsters was one of McFarlane Toys' many attempts to reinvent classic (i.e. Public Domain) monsters, and they did two Frankenstein themed sets. The first was simply called "Frankenstein," and came with a hunchbacked assistant (named Igor, of course) and McFarlane's interpretation Frankenstein's Monster. The second set, "Dr. Frankenstein," came with the scientist himself and a second, two-headed creation. The two playsets were connectable. Although the first one only came with one measly Erlenmeyer flask, averting this trope, the second one outdid itself with more glassware (a beaker, a king of oblong flask, a distilling flask and a test tube). Bizarrely, the chemistry equipment from both sets was made of clear blue plastic painted silver, suggestive more of metal than glass.

    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.
  • In Narc, there are giant flasks and beakers (which can be shot and blown up) in Dr. Spike Rush's "clandestine drug lab."

    Web Original 
  • This comes up a couple times in Welcome to Night Vale in relation to Omnidisciplinary Scientist Carlos (who also wears a labcoat almost constantly). In one episode, when he tells Cecil what he's been working on, he just describes things such as, "standing in front of a row of beakers, with different colored liquids." In another episode, he's fascinated by a vision of "endless rows of Erlenmeyer flasks, and every one held a liquid, and all of the liquids were bubbling..."

    Western Animation 
  • SWAT Kats:
    • 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.
    • In "I Am The Night", after Gordon gets wounded because Batman didn't get there in time, the Dark Knight expresses his frustration and self-doubt by flipping over a lab bench in the Batcave.
  • 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.
  • In TaleSpin, Buzz's laboratory at Khan Industries featured tons and tons of flasks and other chemistry glassware so enormous it called to mind Mr. Ages' human-sized apparatus in The Secret Of NIMH. He never uses any of it, really, as almost all of his work revolves around robotics and machinery (in particular he invents a rocket pack and a primitive helicopter).
  • Expect this to crop up in almost any scientist's lab in The Simpsons, Professor Frink in particular. Meanwhile, in the second Treehouse of Horror episode, when Mr. Burns and Smithers descend into Burns' Mad Scientist Laboratory, they pass a worktable in the foreground featuring loads of glassware and a human brain in a dish. As in The Pagemaster, as they pass behind them, the audience's views of their bodies become distorted, stretched and squashed when viewed through the liquids.

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