Going to the pictures has taken on a whole new meaning. If you’re going to the Odeon now it’s to decide whether the main characters on screen escape miraculously or go down for years, or life, and you are making that decision. Because serious trials are now playing out in realtime, on the big screen, and jurors are sitting in the stalls and watching it all happen before the final curtain.

Since Tuesday, 11 screens at the Odeon Braehead, west of Glasgow, have been turned over to High Court trials. Four at the Odeon in Fort Kinnaird, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, have also been conducting virtual trials since the end of September.

It works like this. The 15 jurors go into their cinema in the multiplex, take their seats – socially distanced, of course – and watch the big screen. When the judge, who is in a physical court, rolls up the lights are dimmed, and they stand up. Well, they better because there is a camera on each one of them so that the judge can see if they’re paying due respect, not reading the paper, making a phone call, running sweepstake on the outcome, or just nodding off.

On a split screen the jurors, in their comfy seats, can see the judge, the accused, the respective lawyers in the physical court, and any witness who isn’t virtual. I’m not sure if makeup for the participants is involved.

For lunch there are packed sandwiches, tea and coffee, but no popcorn, which is a startling omission. Perhaps it was felt the rustling and popping would interfere with the peregrinations of the combatants in court.

This is all because of the pandemic, of course, but don’t expect it to go back to normal when it ends because, as we like to say now, this is the new normal.

Fitting up (oops!) the two virtual High Court centres cost £5 million, although I don’t know who got the contract and whether it was tendered, and the plan is to spend another £6.5m to extend to 16 sheriff and jury trial courts throughout Scotland. There haven’t been any of these taking place since March, with huge backlogs of people in custody.

This is good business for the cinemas, which haven’t had any since the start of the lockdown, and with blockbusters put back until at least next year the future looked dismal. Cineworld, an Odeon competitor, is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

There are also virtual custody courts – these are the ones which deal with the less serious issues for which people have been banged up overnight, or for the weekend, for peeing in the street or some such – but they’re much less hi-tech. Punters from various holding cells are taken to a central police station – in Greater Glasgow it’s Aikenhead Road – and shuffle before a camera to find out their fate. Their lawyers have talked to them only by phone or video link beforehand.

Odeon is the most famous name in British cinemas. The chain was started by Oscar Deutsch in the 1930s. Odeon is an acronym for Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation. What would old Oscar have made of this? Not much, I suspect. The Odeons, like much else, are now owned by a Chinese conglomerate although, surprisingly, they don’t provide lunchtime takeaways.

There is a backlog of 60 homicide trials which will play out in the two Odeons. This is surely no way to run a justice system?

Nice yuan

Another Chinese company has piloted a device – a cap like a swimming hat that women used to wear in the old, unenlightened days – which allows you to type using only brainwaves. Well, it makes a change from all those banks of monkeys at typewriters trying to recreate Hamlet. The hat is going to replace these stage mind-reading acts, for sure.

Better still, a US company called NeuroSky is selling a movie player which allegedly allows users to influence the film plot by focusing the mind on it. I don’t think they’re in use in the Braehead Odeon just yet.

Think of the endings to duff movies you could change. In my film of Titanic, Jack and Rose get eaten by sharks (and don’t point out that the Atlantic waters are too cold for them, because it’s my mind). In M Night Shyamalan’s daft movie The Village, where a 19th-century one turns out to be in the present day, the director is brought out on a plinth and stoned. First Blood should have stuck with an alternative DVD ending which has Rambo commit suicide. That would have stopped the endless bushels of corn which followed. And, of course, Rhett would say to Scarlett: “Frankly, my dear, I’m gay.”

No joking matter

A GROUP of Stanford University academics run a course called “enhancing influence and status” by using laughter at work which is, they say – as they would – “under-leveraged”. Apparently, you can crack jokes until you’re 23 but then not until you’re on the cusp of retiral, for fear of making some terribly un-PC gaffe and losing promotion. That isn’t a thesis which obtains at (virtual) Herald Towers where we can barely grip a laptop for holding our sides.

The most famous casualty of this was Gerald Ratner who built up a fantastically successful jewellery business and blew it with a joke he had been cracking for years but ill-advisedly used it in1991 at a conference of the Institute of Directors. This was describing a decanter set as “total crap”, topping it with one about earrings “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

Overnight his group, Ratners. which he had built from nothing, lost £500 million in value and he was subsequently fired. He has a book out next month called Reinventing Yourself, about how he did. Hopefully, there are a few jokes and it isn’t total crap.

Not so super

A ROUND of boos at the White House official who persuaded Donald Trump that he should not emerge from hospital looking frail, supported and using a stick, only to spring alert, rip open his shirt and reveal a Superman top underneath.

Superman was, of course, an undocumented, illegal alien who was sent to America in the 1930s to uphold values which, as far as I can work out from the films I’ve seen, involved going to bed with your partner and both of you keeping one foot on the floor, which must have made sex difficult, although that was probably the point. Something about this must have troubled The Donald gofer.

Or perhaps the unknown adviser had read the Superman trilogy by Mark Millar, the comic genius from Coatbridge who produced a brilliant alternative man of steel in the early 2000s for DC Comics. It was Superman: Red Son. In this alternative version the rocket from the planet Krypton lands not in a field in Kansas but in a collective farm in the Ukraine and he becomes “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact”. His civilian identity is, of course, a state secret.

Lex Luthor (aka Mike Pence) turns up, as does Wonder Woman (Melania?) who fancies the ski-tight pants off the big man, Batman kills himself as a martyr (Steve Bannon) and Lois Lane marries Luthor and becomes press secretary (Kellyanne Conway) as well as First Lady.

Sadly, the truth became even more unlikely. Millar sold out his comic empire for squillions to Netflix and he’s now their Euro supremo. It enabled him to buy a castle in the Borders with extensive grounds from which employees come and go in helicopters. The local hunt had traditionally started their fox kill from his front lawn but Millar banned them. You can take the boy out of Coatbridge …!