Second Run was going to go public on this very soon, but since you've started the ball rolling it might as well be today.
Yes, as you've correctly surmised, the best surviving source for Mysterious Object at Noon
unavoidably has burned-in English subtitles. Obviously, this is far from an ideal situation, but there's nothing that can realistically be done about it short of finding the missing camera negative.
Here's what's going to be appearing in Second Run's booklet:
The Restoration of Mysterious Object at Noon
Mysterious Object at Noon was shot on 16mm black and white reversal film stock and subsequently blown-up to 35mm for theatrical release. The 16mm original camera reversal print no longer exists. The restoration therefore drew on the best surviving element – the 35mm blow-up inter-negative. Apichatpong Weerasethakul had deposited this negative with the Austrian Film Museum in 2007. In 2015, it was repatriated and is now held at the Thai Film Archive in Bangkok.
The Austrian Film Museum scanned the negative at 3K resolution (3072 x 2160 pixels) and a bit depth of 10-bit (logarithmic scale) on its own ARRISCAN ideally suited to archival film elements. The aim of the ensuing digital image restoration was to remove, as best as possible, the ravages of time upon the negative without correcting any inherent defects stemming from the films’ original production circumstances. Its characteristic “grainy” look was therefore retained, while printing errors such as repeated frames or jump cuts went deliberately untouched. Another attribute of the source material that was not corrected were the English subtitles that were ingrained on the negative at the time of its creation. Rather than attempt to remove the subtitles digitally, which ran the risk of introducing unwanted visual ‘artifacts’, it was decided to retain them as a permanent reminder of the film’s suboptimal survival status. At the request of director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the subtitles were corrected and enhanced where necessary.
Digital colour grading was carried out at the Listo Videofilm laboratory in Vienna under the personal supervision of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. As with the digital image restoration, no attempt was made to rectify the ‘overexposed’ look of the original film. Listo also handled the printing and processing of the new analog preservation and access elements.
As the original DAT master tapes could not be located, the 35mm optical soundtrack negative served as the source for the sound restoration. The soundtrack negatives were digitised at 24-bit/48kHz at the specialised film restoration laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna on a Sondor OMA E fitted with COSP-Xi 2K ™. Sound restoration was carried out at Technicolor Thailand, Ltd., during which the original Dolby Stereo track was remixed into a more contemporary 5.1 surround sound configuration.
Once all restoration had been completed, new 35mm image and soundtrack negatives were created for optimal long term preservation. From these negatives, new 35mm prints were struck to facilitate continued access to the film in its original presentation format. At the same time, 2K and 4K Digital Cinema Packages were produced for modern digital theatrical presentation.
On this disc, Mysterious Object at Noon is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. To accommodate the English subtitles which were partly printed outside the image borders, the picture has been window-boxed slightly on the bottom, left and right sides.
I haven't seen the end result myself, but from the above it certainly sounds as though they did the most thorough and conscientious job with it that they could have done. Put it like this: if I'd been overseeing this project I can't think of anything I'd have done differently given what they had to work with.