NEW ORLEANS — Actor Tom Hanks says viewers are in for a realistic "wartime experience" when the new film he produced, "Beyond All Boundaries," opens at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Friday.
The film will be shown exclusively at the museum's new Victory Theater, which includes "4-D" elements such as props, simulated winds and shaking seats. Images from Pearl Harbor to the wintry Battle of the Bulge – the final major German offensive against the Allies – are shown on a 120-foot (36-meter)-wide screen.
The film incorporates vintage film footage, animation and sensory effects so audiences can feel the rumbling of tank treads and booming of anti-aircraft fire.
"This is not just a widescreen movie," said Hanks, who narrates the 35-minute film, as well as an introductory video that will be shown as viewers wait to enter the theater. "There's actual things that pop up, actual elements that come into it that put you in the environment."
Victory Theater has been a highly anticipated attraction at the museum. The theater was built specifically for "Beyond All Boundaries" as part of a $300 million museum expansion that is expected to continue through 2015. Federal and state funds, along with private donations, have so far generated about $90 million for the project.
Two other additions – a canteen that will showcase musical revues inspired by USO-style productions and a restaurant called The American Sector that will be overseen by chef John Besh – are also opening Friday.
"We think of it as a World War II museum history park with a variety of things to engage visitors," said Gordon "Nick" Mueller, the museum's president and chief executive officer. "It's going to be very special."
Hanks, the star of "Saving Private Ryan" and an executive producer on the World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers" and the upcoming follow-up called "The Pacific," said the planning and making of "Beyond All Boundaries" took about five years. He said one of the toughest aspects of the project was trying to decide what elements of World War II would be represented in such a short film.
What had to be captured, "without question," Hanks said, were the economic and human costs and the war's roots in the civil rights and women's rights movements.
"We had a Jim Crow society when all that happened," Hanks said. "We still had segregated armed forces ... We asked guys to go off and risk their lives and come back home and ride in the back of the bus. There was no way that brand of injustice could continue in our country after that war."
Hanks said there was an enormous sense of pride among those affiliated with the project, including the film's creative director, Phil Hettema.
"We all kind of understood from the beginning that this is an important story to tell," Hettema said. "It's a seminal moment in our country's history and who we are today. Our notion of who we are as Americans was forged by World War II."
Hettema said keeping the film experience authentic was important. He even incorporated authentic props, such as a 1940s radio for the broadcasting of the news of Pearl Harbor in the film. He also based a prop of a concentration camp guard tower on the design of actual towers at Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Hanks and others affiliated with the film are slated to walk a red carpet Thursday for a private screening. On Friday there will be a military flyover and red carpet procession of World War II veterans, and entertainer Mickey Rooney is scheduled to perform with his band.
The celebration will continue through the weekend with a Victory Stomp block party Saturday and a retrospective honoring the museum's founder, the late Stephen Ambrose, on Sunday.
Hanks said Ambrose's idea to put the museum in New Orleans was "an absolute home run" for both the city and the rest of the country.
Hanks has helped raise money for the museum from its start in the 1990s. It opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum and later was designated by Congress as the country's official World War II museum.
"I feel like I've been lucky to be a part of the building blocks of something that, in a perfect world, will last forever," he said.
On the Net:
National World War II Museum: http://www.nationalww2museum.org