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Nuclear Candle
A single match is always enough to magically light up a room bigger than the Colosseum.
Hollywood Rule Book, Vanity Fair (April 2002)

All the light sources are either broken, out of energy, out of fuel (includes wax) or simply not there. The scene is illuminated by a single light. This can be a flashlight or electric lantern, but is usually a lighter, a candle or a matchstick.

And yet, despite the tiny size and almost insignificant lumen output of the thing, everything looks as if the light was powered by a nuclear reaction. Rooms, even quite large ones, will be lighted to almost daylight level.

But if the matchstick is depleted, or the batteries or fuel runs out, the light extinguishes and everything is suddenly pitch black. Cue the monsters, traps or sentimental/sexual plot twist.

Compare Hollywood Darkness, where the ostensible light source is either natural or completely inexplicable... And usually blue. Often appears in the same context as (and immediately after) By the Lights of Their Eyes—it wouldn't be much of a Reveal if a darkness-shrouded monster stayed darkness-shrouded after the candle was lit.

Contrast Chiaroscuro, where everything looks like it was actually lit by a candle.

Examples

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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt in the episode "Once Upon A Time In Garterbelt", Panty and Stocking secretly follow after Garterbelt down into a hidden section of the church. Before long, they run out of light. Panty says she couldn't see anything, so Stocking strikes a match against Panty's cheek, instantly illuminating the trap-filled catacomb that lay before them. Panty yelps in pain, but Stocking said she did wish she had a light source. As they end up dodging trap after trap, eventually the match burns out and the room goes instantly dark again. They did manage to make their way to the end in their quest to dig up some dirt on Garterbelt in the end though.

     Film — Live Action 

  • In Die Hard, the main character is advancing in a ventilation shaft, illuminating his way with a Zippo. The light provided is, however, more akin to a searchlight than to a small flame.
  • In Scary Movie 2, when Cindy shows Buddy the secret study, he lights one candle, which then illuminates nearly the whole room. As this is a parody film, this is likely intentional.
  • Subtly parodied in Young Frankenstein, when Frau Blücher (WHINNY!) warns the other characters to "stay close to the candles" she is carrying, because the staircase can be treacherous. None of said candles are even lit.

     Live Action TV  

  • An episode of the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice (set in 1810-ish) has the Bennetts sit down for dinner. The room is brightly lit as if by sunlight, but behind Mr Bennett you can see it's pitch black outside. There's no way candles or oil lamps could produce such perfect light.
  • An episode of Friends does this. There is a blackout, and the friends are bringing in candles for light. Later on, all the candles but one are extinguished, and yet the light level is almost the same. One of the characters then blows on this last candle extinguishing it, and everything goes dark. A sentimental plot twist follows.
  • An episode of Little House on the Prairie does this very badly. One of the girls is kidnapped and trapped in a pitch-black cellar... when her captor checks on her while holding a small candle, it's suddenly as if a spotlight was shining down.
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), Dean's flashlight is the only light source in an abandoned warehouse on a rainy night.

     Theatre  

  • In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the second act opens in near-darkness. Then Hamlet lights a single oil-lamp, and the stagelights all come on. The stage directions even note that this is highly unrealistic.
  • Any ostensible light sources on stage are controlled by the lighting technician whenever possible, so an actor "turning on a lamp" will usually just reach up inside the shade to cue the tech to turn on the visible lamp as well as the (much brighter) stage lighting so that it appears turning on the lamp lit up the stage. Where the tech cannot control the on-stage source (a candle or torch), the staging will include a similar obvious cue for the tech to bring up the lights simultaneously. You really can't expect an audience whose eyes have gotten adapted to 10 kilowatts or so of lighting (and that's actually pretty minimal) to adjust to the light given off by a candle in any sort of reasonable time frame.
    • A 100 watt bulb seems pretty bright in your living room. The average spot on a theatre stage is probably being hit by at least three 500 watt (or more: 575, 750, and 1000 are also common wattages) instruments, focused to direct their entire output into a fairly narrow cone. You can usually still tell a "practical" fixture (an onstage lamp) is on by looking directly at it, but if you look closely you'll notice it doesn't seem to cast any noticeable shadows.

     Video Games  

  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. If don't have a candle, you cannot see any enemies in dark rooms, even if they are inches in front of you. Once you get the candle, they're visible even if Link and the enemy are on opposite sides of the screen.
    • The original The Legend of Zelda was even worse. Candles lit up dark rooms by tossing a single fireball that burned for only a few seconds.
  • Pokémon's Flash ability used to do this, lighting up dark caves entirely (what made some caves pitch-black and others not was never explained). In the newer games, though, it's just an expanded circle of light around the player.
  • Prey has Tommy's Zippo. It's not as strong as other examples in this page (it only lights up a small area ahead of you), but it still gives off much more light than a real lighter.


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