There's a certain ontology to the celluloid image: on some level, what is presented to us the audience via camera and film has the appearance of reality, unlike painting or sculpture which more obviously bear the marks of its author. (This might be familiar as André Bazin's 'The Ontology of the Photographic Image' is film school 101 reading.)
Once this image has been put through a layer of digitisation - even if it's a simple digital intermediate (DI) - this ontology starts breaking down.
This doesn't mean digital cinema is inherently inferior as a medium (I actually think this liberation creates incredible, infinite possibilities that have yet to be fully explored) but the differences have to be understood and respected.
One of the main controversies surrounding the 2011 The Thing, a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing (itself a remake of the '51 The Thing From Another World, adapted from John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?) is its use of CGI.
There were early assurances from screenwriter Eric Heisserer: "I'm not going to write this if it's going to be a CGI-fest. This has to be practical, this has to be an old school creature, as real as possible."
However, by the time the film was released, the practical effects by Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis' Amalgamated Dynamics were mostly replaced by CGI, allegedly at the behest of a skittish studio.
Amalgamated Dynamics, dissatisfied with the disrespect shown to their work, released a YouTube video showing the behind-the-scenes of their creations. The popularity of this video encouraged them to produce via Kickstarter Harbinger Down, a full feature horror film of their own that showcased their practical effects.
However, before Harbinger Down, and before these much-maligned CG creature effects even begin in the '11 The Thing, what stands out is the digitally-enhanced breath coming out of the actor's mouths.
The Thing '11 is shot on film with anamorphic lenses, but this aesthetic, so beholden to and nostalgic for Carpenter's film - the lens flares, the oval bokeh, the slight shift in the image when focusing - immediately collides with the digital present.
The result is a rupture in the film: these characters are not fighting for their lives against a shape-shifting alien. They're not really in Antarctica. They're not even in icy temperatures, but a warm, comfortable studio.
Carpenter's original film takes place in a hermetically sealed environment. The outside world is a memory, an abstraction; the threat the thing poses to it is only represented in a computer simulation.
In the 2011 version, outsiders are brought in right away. The second sequence cuts outside of Antarctica, introducing American palaeontologist protagonist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who's recruited to help extract a mysterious alien found frozen in the ice. This undermines later attempts to replicate the claustrophobia and paranoia of Carpenter's film.
The film itself is an outsider to its era and its characters who, because of the need to remain in canon with Carpenter's film, are mainly Norwegian.
It's notable too how, despite the 1982 setting, the clothing and hair styles easily read as contemporary; the Norwegian characters sing Norway's 1980 entry to Eurovision, but this is a fairly obscure reference. (Undoubtedly, in the wake of Stranger Things and It, the '80s setting would be exploited far more if it were made today.)
This leaves an emptiness at the centre of the film. Aesthetically, thematically, there's nothing there. No reason for this film to exist.
It's a shame, because the premise - at least the premise of Carpenter's version - is actually fraught with possibilities for digital cinema. The eponymous 'thing' is an iterative, duplicating monster; Dr. Blair's computer program in The Thing '82 even draws the parallel between biological and computer viruses.
The paranoia of Carpenter's The Thing - often interpreted as an AIDs allegory, but also hearkening back to the Cold War fear of conformity in Invasion of the Body Snatchers - has a natural counterpart in the digital era.
The self has been extended digitally into innumerable apps and social platforms, and corporations use this data to profile and simulate their users. The fear of losing control of this, of the digital self replacing the physical self, has proved excellent fodder for horror recently, such as Unfriended.
And, just as the celluloid image gives the appearance of reality, the digital file gives the impression of infinity, that a digital file will last forever, that it's possible to make identical copy after identical copy.
However, this is mostly not the case. Digital files do degrade. (And accessing them is another issue altogether - there's a reason that celluloid is still the preferred format by archivists.) CDs and DVDs will "rot".
A digital copy can be different from its original. This can be a subtractive process or an additive, even transformative one (glitch art, for example).
(This is what The Matrix sequels are about: Neo is revealed to be merely the latest iteration of "the One" program, a release valve for those who exit the Matrix (Zion has been destroyed five times before), and yet it's the glitches in his copy of the program (mainly a glitch called love) that allow him to deviate and overcome it.)
The T-1000's morphing in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a landmark for CGI, is a prototype for what a digital The Thing could have become.
The original T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a flesh-covered metal skeleton, a previous era's conception of a cyborg; the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) can take the form of anyone, even a supposedly trustworthy authority figure like a policeman or a mother.
Rather than breaking into goopy, stretching tendons like the thing, when the T100 is beaten down it literally glitches, applying the wrong texture to its feet which allows John Connor to tell it apart from his mother.
(Interestingly, some of the effects shots of the T-1000 duplicating people, including the security guard below, were achieved by casting twins - a natural phenomenon used to simulate a digital one.)
Unlike Neo, unlike the T-1000's blades for fingers, The Thing '11 loses meaning through duplication.
In its replication of the '82 version, The Thing '11 suffers from "generation loss", digitally recreating most of Carpenter's plot beats and attempting to adhere to his aesthetic without the organic connective tissue, and then, like a dumb computer, not understanding why it fails to create the same effect.
This leaves Alien: Covenant and the Star Wars prequels as the rare films that have successfully reconfigured analogue franchises for a digital era.