In the movie Serenity when they talk to Mr Universe from Miranda on a two-way video link, why can't they just transmit the message they found to him to rebroadcast? The entire final battle seems a bit pointless.

Update: Well thought-out answers, but what irritates me is that nobody says anything like that in the movie. I would have been perfectly happy if someone had just said "We can't transmit this because the Alliance will jam the transmission".

  • Cause that wouldn't be anywhere near as cool. :)
    – BBlake
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 4:02
  • 2
    It'd be nice for sci-fi writers to offer in-narrative closings of all their plot holes, but I don't think we're going to get it. The real answer is: Joss didn't think this through or didn't care. But that's boring when we can invoke public key encryption! Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 2:18
  • They didn't say that they couldn't broadcast it, they said that they couldn't broadwave it (e.g. send it to all of the systems simultanously)
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 16:50

3 Answers 3


Having thought about this I'm gonna propose a more technical explanation.

Suppose that for the purpose of authenticating the video, each frame also contains a cryptographic hash signed using public/private key encryption. The upshot of this is that the video can be proven to be created by Alliance personnel. Only they would have the private key necessary to do the encryption. As such the Alliance could not deny the authenticity of the video.

This eliminates the possibility of sharing the video by simply pointing a camera at it. Such a procedure would not capture the hashes, and the Alliance could easily dismiss it as propaganda.

They could read the disk and transmit it. But in order for verification to work, the video would have to be transmitted with 100% accuracy. The video we did see transmitted was probably lossy and of lower resolution. To transmit the Miranda video would require much more bandwidth than any of the video we actually saw.

The bandwidth available to Serenity would be limited. The transmission system probably is not all that powerful. Transmitting a lot of data would probably also attract the attention of the Alliance. Hence they could not feasibly transfer that much data.

TL;DR: the video file was too large to send over the connection.

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    I had to google TLDR!! "Too long; didn't read"
    – AidanO
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 7:11
  • Good answer, but hashes, even for every frame, but add only an infinitesimal amount of data to the stream. To guarantee the integrity of the transmission, you'd use a forward error correction scheme, which would add somewhere between 5 and 30%, depending on how error tolerant it would need to be. And all of this is with present day tech. Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 21:39
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    @chrisbbehrens, its the video itself that is too large to send, even without hashes or error correcting codes. Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 0:01

The movie implied that reading the oddly-shaped video storage block, required military/Senate hardware, which had a non-standard interface. (Mr. Universe had somehow acquired one).

Before you ask, "so why didn't they point a camera at the screen playing?" - presumably the storage block also had meta-data, including digital signatures. When the video was played back/broadcast on the correct military reader, video screens receiving the broadcast would show a verification message that This Video is an Official Senate Document. Otherwise it could just be some random video photoshopped up by some hacker.

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    I agree - I remember thinking the same thing, and realising that is needed to physically be present with Mr Universe. And the battle was so cool, almost anything was worth it. Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 12:51
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    @SchroedingersCat - exactly. No cool battle is ever pointless. :)
    – John C
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 12:53
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    @John C The best ones feature Summer Glau in a loose fitting dress, though
    – johnc
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 2:58
  • But then that raises the question of why there was a backup unit in the basement. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 13:49
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    @WinstonEwert, as I suggested, Mr. Universe had "somehow" acquired a Senate data-reader. Remember, the guy's a hacker/tech expert.
    – John C
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:01

I think you may have missed the point here. It's not that they lack the ability to broadcast the video to Mr Universe (I'm fairly sure they could have cannibalised the reader from the Rescue vessel if the need arose) it's that Mal is pretty sure that Mr Universe has already gotten a visit from the Operative.

  • If they send Mr Universe the video and it gets physically intercepted, the crew will have tipped off the Alliance that they've got this explosive footage, recorded by one of government's own researchers no less. They won't just have one Operative to worry about, they'll probably find the entire Alliance military coming after them.

  • If the Alliance get a copy of the tape, it will be much harder to convince anyone that the tape is real. The Alliance will know precisely what footage they've got and how to discredit it.

We ain't runnin' any more. I conjure we got one shot at getting this broadcast wide -- wide enough it can't be hide. But the cost'll be high. More'n likely, it'll be everything. I don't wanna be asking that of you. Any of you. Here I am doin' it anyway. - Serenity Script - Jan 2010

WASH : Still got the Reavers, and probably the Alliance between us and him.


ZOE : It's a fair bet the Alliance knows full well about Mr Universe. They're gonna see this coming.

Mal's (frankly insane, albeit semi-successful) plan is to spring the trap that the Operative has set. He'll use the Reaver fleet to distract the Alliance Fleet, giving him the breathing room needed to get down to the surface, rescue Mr Universe and use his equipment to send the Broadwave. As an added bonus, they get to deal a killer blow to the Reavers and a bloody nose to the Alliance.

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    I was just about to say.... Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 16:26
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    +1: This is, like, the entire point of the entire last half of the movie. Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 16:31

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