ON the off chance you were wondering whether Nicole Kidman's new flop Grace of Monaco would have been better if it had been set on Mars, I can tell you quite definitively that no, it wouldn't.

I know this because when I went to see the film last weekend that's exactly what it looked like; the whole picture was tinged an odd shade of crimson, as though the director had decided to relocate the story to the red planet at the last minute and just dipped the film in a tin of beetroot to save money.

Talk about seeing through rose-coloured glasses - this was like watching a movie through an Instagram filter. (Come to think of it, there's a great marketing opportunity. Hipsters would probably love it, and the cinema could charge extra. Make a hashtag for it, it'll be the next big thing.)

Tim Roth as Prince Rainier was the same shade as an old cricket ball, and poor old Nic looked like she'd fallen asleep on Larvotto beach and forgotten the SPF. It really was taking the concept of a “redhead” far too literally.

If I didn't know better, I'd think the projectionist had some sort of vendetta against her (probably understandable, if he or she ever had to sit through Bewitched or The Stepford Wives).

But I do know better. There was no projectionist.

There are no projectionists anywhere, actually. Just computers and robots, doing the job projectionists used to do.

It's been that way for years, but definitively so since the end of last year, when the final axe fell on 35mm film. Cinemas were forced to make the switch to digital, or find themselves with no new movies to screen.

Films are now delivered to cinemas on USB or hard drive, or are downloaded direct to their computers. They arrive in ones and zeros instead of on celluloid, so there's no longer a need for someone to sit up in that little box changing reels over.

Which is all well and good, until you get a film in which Nicole Kidman looks like she's got rosacea.

At the cinema I was in, no one seemed to know how to fix the red tinge problem. Actually, no one even realised there WAS a problem until I told the ticket attendant, and even he just furrowed his brow and said “oh yes, it does look a bit red”.

Eventually I found a stressed looking young man in the lobby, frantically pacing up and down on his mobile saying things like “yes I've TRIED that button!” and “no, it's still bloody red!”.

I later learned that he was most likely on the phone to the NOC, the rather ominously named “Network Operating Centre” that monitors and controls most modern cinemas' projectors these days. Staff at this 24-7 operation – who are based either in Sydney or America, depending on what time you call - can tap into digital projectors remotely over the internet to fix or update them with new software.

If your film looks funny you no longer rely on a projectionist, you rely on a voice at the end of a phone.

If my experience is anything to go by it's certainly not a foolproof system, but it seems most cinema owners prefer the computers to the old projectors.

Joe Proud, whose family has run the independent Odeon cinema in Semaphore for 10 years, says the new computers don't wear out like the old mechanical projectors did – and they're cheaper.

“The computer starts up the film, turns it off, puts the lights up, puts the lights down - everything,” he told me.

“The problems we have have now have been miniscule compared to the old projectors, and the quality of the picture on screen  is second to none.”

Bob Parr at Wallis Cinemas agrees, saying digital film now also allows cinemas to screen live broadcasts and remastered classics at a higher quality than the original print.

Still, I miss the old projectionists a bit. Especially last weekend, when I endured 20 minutes of Red Face of Monaco before giving up and walking out.

At least if a projectionist had been there we'd have known what the problem was - payback for "Australia".


First published in The Advertiser, June 28, 2014.