‘Knight and Day’ Plot Gimmick Used Before

I recently read a New Yorker review of this new Tom Cruise movie (they did not recommend it).

I need your help to identify the origin of the unlimited-power battery plot gimmick. You would probably have to be 60+ years of age and to have read a lot of the sci-fi of the mid to late 1950’s.

The movie “gimmick” was that Cruise plays a future-world soldier of fortune type who has somehow acquired or invented a battery. The battery is physically about the size and weight of a pack of cigarettes — or perhaps, if you prefer, an iPod nano. Defying many laws of physics at once, THIS battery can supply enough electrical energy to run a large city, and do so indefinitely.

(Any electrodes that could be physically affixed to such a small battery, capable of delivering that much energy, would explode instantly when the power was connected to a city-sized load).

The “plot” is that CIA types and underworld types both conspire to catch and kill our Tom Cruise hero, confiscate his device, and exploit it for gain. Such a device would be at least as valuable as one that spat out a pound of refined gold every minute for the rest of your life.

The item: I have read this plot before. It is not original. At first I could not remember when I read it. Then it came to me: High school or Junior High School, around 1958-1960, in some one or other of those innumerable sci-fi novels I used to read as a form of escape. Of course I forget the author or book title.

I did web searches on the movie under ‘plot credits’. The New York Times states:

As of last week the Writers Guild of America West had yet to determine final writing credits for the film. But Fox, in submitting the project for credits arbitration, said it viewed the story as having been written by Mr. O’Neill, with a script by Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Mangold — a tribute to the staying power of the original story, notwithstanding the many writers who were involved.

The ‘credits’ issue seems to revolve around how many share credit for the movie script. As ‘Patrick O’Neill’ is a name as Irish as ‘Bill Smith’ is English, this was a tough one to research. All trails led to dead ends.

I think my mom made sure my dime novel collection went to the trash the same day as my comic book collection, when I joined the Army in 1964.

Then again, I doubt that what I read was Heinlein, Sturgeon, Clarke or another more celebrated novelist of their time and genre. The book I read might well be long out of print. I’m also quite certain this is not something I could have made up, or imagined retroactively … I already understood enough Electricity 101 to realize such a device could not deliver the required amperes of current at its design size, even if you do believe in zero-input perpetual motion — and I mused over the decades whether the author had ever heard of Ohm’s Law.

It’s quite believable that a screenwriter could use a plot idea without realizing it had originated, or even have been read by the writer, many decades before. I’m asserting no charges of plot-lifting, but, if the original author and title could be identified, I think that information would certainly merit inclusion in “credits arbitration”.

SO: does this infinite-battery plot idea ring any bells with you?

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2 thoughts on “‘Knight and Day’ Plot Gimmick Used Before

  1. It’s a bit hard to credit anyone. The movie wasn’t so much about a power source as it was Cruise and Diaz attempting to evade one enemy or another, learning who their real enemy is, arguing and then falling for each other, protecting the designer, etc. You get the idea. Either way… crediting an “idea” like that to anyone wouldn’t make much sense. It’s a lot like trying to patent breathing. How many original ideas are possible these days anyway? Almost none.

  2. I mostly agree with you, but my point was about the “battery”, not the movie … That battery gimmick is so off-the-wall, and has so many flaws from an engineering or physics point of view, that I find it hard to believe no one connected with the scriptwriting or production of the movie did not, at some point, become aware that it “had been done before.” So my article really was about that small angle. As I acknowledged, I didn’t even see the movie; I selectively picked my info out of a review in The New Yorker.

    I don’t pretend to keep up with cinema. Even so, it would seem that original ideas are as possible as they ever were. Perhaps fewer and fewer of those are coming out of the major studios, and fewer yet blaze the name “Tom Cruise”.

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