We remastered William Shatner’s Rocket Man, the World’s Greatest Meme

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The 1978 Saturn Awards is a long-distant memory to those who attended the event. However, the celebration of science fiction, fantasy, and horror lives on with the unforgettable performance of William Shatner’s Rocket Man.

A spoken-word cover of Elton John’s masterpiece, the musical performance of Star Trek‘s William Shatner has gone down in history as one of the greatest memes of all time. Unfortunately, it’s also in terrible quality… until now?

We remastered William Shatner’s Rocket Man

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Yesterday morning, something magical happened. A Twitter user and off-air TV archivist by the name of Rhys, aka Flemishdog, uploaded the highest quality version of William Shatner’s Rocket Man.

The archivist explained that the copy was found at the end of a tape filled with ABC Schools program. As Flemishdog states, this is the best quality version you’ll ever find of the original performance, unless the original broadcast is digitised somewhere.

We like to tempt fate, I saw this as a challenge to attempt to remaster the historic video, something I’ve attempted once with the horrendous YouTube version of the performance. But how did it turn out? Well, the results speak for themselves. (If you’re only interested in watching the remaster, click here.)

Using Topaz Video Enhance AI, the artificial intelligence model Artemis was used to remaster the video into a more presentable state. Stripping away some of the excessive video artefacts and increasing the original resolution from 640x480 to 960x720.

Originally, we attempted to increase the resolution to double the original to 1280x960. However, this had the effect of exacerbating some issues that are present already in our 1.5x resolution scale.

Original vs Remastered
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Original vs Remastered

Did it work?

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For the most part, we believe that our remastered William Shatner’s Rocket Man looks quite good. With some film grain helping to offset the overly smooth look of Artemis’ upscaling, we’re able to clean up the picture significantly.

For example, the Shatner’s facial features — while still too smooth — no longer suffer from the rough compression. In most instances, the picture looks clearer, although it does lack some of the grungy charm of the original.

Thankfully, the original picture had a healthy amount of highlights. As the Artemis model works best by bringing out highlights, Shatner’s glowing face and hair are the best parts of the remaster. Furthermore, the smoke wisps from the actor’s cigarette cleaned up fantastically despite the original video issues.

Despite this, there are still a number of unavoidable issues with the video using AI remasters. (Although, there is definitely someone out there who could do a better job than us.)

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The flaws

While the source version of William Shatner’s Rocket Man is not perfect, neither is out remaster. With so many video artefacts in the original, low-res video, it’s impossible to create a perfect HD copy of the historic meme.

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However, even with our lower res, grainy remaster, there’s still a number of issues that are instantly noticeable. One of the biggest is before Shatner’s appearance in the video as songwriter Bernie Taupin takes the stage.

In this short clip, the AI remaster attempts to remove the noise on Taupin’s sunglasses, showing more of his eyes underneath. However, the reconstruction on his eyes is rough, causing them to morph unnaturally. Maybe Bernie Taupin’s eyes really did look like that in the 70s, but we doubt it.

Another issue with the reconstruction comes at my favourite part: the appearance of the Third Shatner. Due to how compressed the small, funky Shatner is, and how cartoonish his motions are, his face suffers from a morphing issue that’s hard to correct. It’s a shame, really, as most of Shatner’s performance cleans up very well.

There are also smaller issues, such as Shatner’s collar sometimes having black spots and sometimes not. Sometimes, the details are restored as they should be, sometimes those details are erased.

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The limit of AI remasters?

At the time of writing, William Shatner’s Rocket Man may be a fantastic test for the limits of AI remasters. For now, it doesn’t seem possible to get a HD version of this historic meme, but in the future we might be able to.

Nevertheless, we will keep trying with every new, high quality version that releases. But I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…