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Showing Off the Perilous Power Source describes that scene where the captain of the Cool Ship shows off the fantastic power source of the vessel to others, usually hapless passengers (and of course us, the audience,) to impress them with just how powerful indeed the ship is. Included will be dialogue of how dangerous it is to be exposed to such terrible energies, and that were it not for the radiation suits/visor/lead glass that were provided to gaze through, it would have otherwise been certain death to merely look on such elemental fury.

Trope formerly named for dialogue in just such a scene from Forbidden Planet; Doctor Morbius states that "man cannot look upon the face of the gorgon and live", as they gape in awe at the sight of the power of ninety-two exploding suns.

For what it's worth, in that film, they used a mirror to see this -- Perseus, take note.

Related to Take Our Word for It, as Showing Off the Perilous Power Source can be used to compensate for lack of budget or Special Effects Failure. Not to be confused with You Cannot Grasp the True Form, which sounds similar but is in fact very different.

Examples of Showing Off the Perilous Power Source include:


  • Done in Last Exile when Dio wants to see the power source of the Silvana
  • During Outlaw Star the ship's computer, Gilliam, helps the new crew activate the XGP's engines during start up.

Comic Books

  • One member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Element Lad, was left the only one conscious when they were all cast into a different universe, and seems to have this reaction to the energies of the forming universe, terrified of looking out the windows of their spaceship. After he sends the others back but is left alone in the new universe without the ship, he spent billions, if not trillions of years simply floating through space- his powers allowed him to survive by transmuting his body and the air that came with him. He watched stars come into being and die several times before he realized that was what was happening. Eventually, growing lonely, he drifted down to a planet and started to use his powers to help life come into being... and by the time his teammates came along, the entire galaxy was essentially embroiled in an ongoing conflict between the Progeny, the species he was currently using as his instrument to shape the evolution of the local races, and the "variant" species which he'd decided didn't fit into that shape. When his teammates finally met up with him, his way of thinking was completely unrecognizable. According to Brainiac 5, he's not necessarily mad or sane or good or evil anymore- he's simply living in an incomprehensibly larger time scale, from which the eyeblinks that are mortal lifespans simply don't matter, and the galaxy is his petri dish because he doesn't need to care about the feelings of the beings living there- regardless of what the germs in the petri dish think of him while they're alive, regardless of anything, they'll be dead before he blinks one way or the other.


  • The Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, from 1954 - when Nemo offers a big riveted visor and chestplate to Messr. Arronax, before hiding his own face in his arm and opening that big lead door to the atomic reactor. To be fair, Forbidden Planet's writers probably didn't rip off this movie - '50s magazines were no doubt full of scenes of scientists in goggles peering at atomic piles...
  • The Russian engineers of K19: The Widowmaker have a bad experience in their gorgon gaze; forced to enter the reactor compartment to prevent a meltdown, they pay the price of close-up and unshielded work with an atomic reactor. A sad and real-life example of why working with such forces in person rarely comes to a happy ending.
    • They did have safety suits... but they were designed for biochemical work and provided little, if any, protection from radiation.
  • Ice Station Zebra has a scene where submarine captain Rock Hudson shows Russian agent Ernest Borgnine the ship's nuclear reactor. "Where is reactor?" he asks. "Under you," our captain answers, and shows how Ernest is kneeling on a thick hatch with an equally dense glass viewport to show red hot reactor action.
  • Event Horizon might be an example of this, in having an expository scene in the spike filled, ominous Engine Room Of Doom - that is utilizing a motive energy that opens the very doors of Hell itself. That pretty much trumps any 92 suns worth of whatever, Doctor Morbius.
  • In Sunshine, the Icarus ships have a special Sun-gazing room where the crew can sit and do exactly that. We (and the crew) are told that the filters are set at maximum or near-maximum capacity, and the sunlight is already blinding white. To release the filters would undoubtedly be fatal to whoever stood there.
  • In the climactic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana and temporary love interest Marion are tied to a stake in the middle of things as the Nazis are about to open the Ark of the Covenant. Indy tells Marion not to look at whatever power or entity comes out - sound advice, as it turns out, as nasty, Nightmare Fuelish things happen to the Nazis, including one guy getting his face melted off.
  • Star Trek II includes a scene wherein a critical piece of the ship's engines is sealed in a small room. Anyone entering the room will be subjected to lethal radiation as demonstrated when Spock sacrifices himself to repair the warp drive.


  • Rhysling, the blind singer of Robert A. Heinlein's The Green Hills Of Earth, loses his sight this way - he peers past the baffles of a rocket's reactor and is then blinded by Cherenkov radiation. Ouch.
  • In the book Halo: The Fall of Reach, Captain Keyes is given a tour of his new ship's state-of-the-art fusion reactor, the most powerful in the fleet.
  • In one of the Nightside books, John Taylor finds out that one of his friends is being used as a powersource for the local power plant. Naturally he does something drastic.

Live Action TV

  • Xtonic radiation prevents the Doctor from looking at the planet's landscape in "Midnight" for more than a few seconds.
    • Looking at the Heart of the TARDIS turns you into a god, but you will die after even a minute or two. Fortunately, the Doctor had some spare lives.
    • In "The End of the World", the guests have come to watch the destruction of Earth when the sun goes nova. Shield failure due to sabotage proves that even before the actual explosion, the sun is giving off tremendous energy enough to kill an unprotected onlooker.

Myth and Legend

  • This trope comes from Classical Mythology: Perseus needed a mirror to look safely at Medusa, one of the original Gorgons, without her turning him to stone with her gaze.

Real Life

  • Anyone who has ever built a pinhole camera to observe a solar eclipse. The actual danger of viewing an eclipse with the naked eye is that most of the ultraviolet radiation is produced by the corona, still visible outside the silhouette of the moon. Your pupils expand in response to the darker setting, allowing more UV rays to fry your delicate retinas.
    • Staring at the sun is a bad idea, at any time. Most of the time people instinctively know not to do this (as any ancestors who made a habit of it went blind) but during an eclipse the sun is different, so our gaze tends to be drawn to it. While the sun is totally covered by the moon, it's fine to look at it.
      • Please note that this safe time is only a few minutes at most and can be as little as a few seconds.
  • Arc welding without a safety helmet can cause severe eye damage, even if you aren't looking directly at the arc.
    • Then again, in both of these cases, it is not what you see that is dangerous - it is what you can't see, the UV radiation. A better example is gazing into a DVD burner's laser - this time, it is the actual visible light that ends up burning its ones and zeros into your retina.
  • Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the north-west of England has a visitor's centre, and part of the tour includes a viewing gallery (through some very thick glass) looking onto the top of the reactor housing (albeit, the reactor itself is sealed and shielded, and visitors are not allowed to view when they are changing out fuel rods as the top of the housing has to be open to load the new ones in). It's rather impressive to look upon.

Web Comics

  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger played with this scene in the second arc (which mocked Star Trek technical solutions, especially their ideas of safety), when the Federation Aliens escorted protagonist to their Main Engineering:

Quentyn: (popping out eyes) Omnibus--- a comprehensive scan, please?

Omnibus: No need, commander. It's obviously what it appears to be... an enormous antimatter reactor.

Quentyn: (in an expressive "You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!" pose) ...inside an inhabited ship.

Western Animation

  • In Alan Dean Foster's adaptation of the animated Star Trek episode 'One Of Our Planets Is Missing', one of the Enterprise's nacelles is constructed internally of antimatter components; restarting the warp engines requires walking down a narrow pathway suspended magnetically down the center. Not exactly the same thing but, true to the idea that the power source of the ship is made of some VERY dangerous stuff.
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