Beyond All Boundaries, created exclusively for The National WWII Museum, is a unique and powerful 4-D cinematic experience available nowhere else in the world. Created and crafted with 21st-century technology and utilizing a 120-feet wide immersive screen, the production plunges viewers into the 20th-century’s most titanic struggle. It tells the tale of the Greatest Generation’s journey from Pearl Harbor into the fire of epic battles to America’s final victory in the War That Changed the World in the words of the veterans themselves. The Museum is honored to have Tom Hanks as Executive Producer and the voices of some of Hollywood’s top stars bringing to life the words of actual World War II participants and war correspondents.
True to history it is, but to appeal to the broadest possible audience -– from the Greatest Generation to Gen Y -– the Museum engaged Hollywood technicians to create a jaw-dropping experience in 4-D, a technique that engages all the audience’s senses with digital effects, life-sized props, animation, and atmospherics as well as film and sound. Audiences will feel the tank treads rumbling across North Africa’s deserts, brush snow from their cheeks during the wintery Battle of the Bulge, and flinch as anti-aircraft fire tries to bring down their B-17 on a bombing run over Nazi Germany.
Beyond All Boundaries was produced by Phil Hettema, onetime Senior Vice President, Attraction Development for Universal Studios and President of the Hettema Group. The Los Angeles-based studio specializes in crafting immersive entertainment for Hollywood movie studios and dynamic museum exhibits such as those at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. When approached by The National WWII Museum, the heralded production team eagerly agreed to work with the New Orleans institution. The reasons were as personal as they were professional.
"From the moment we became involved with this project we knew it was a really important story to tell," Hettema said. "Most of the team had personal connections to the war. My dad flew a B-17 over Germany and practically everyone had a relative or friend who was involved in it. Beyond All Boundaries is really the story of how America came of age and became the nation we know today. It's vital we make sure the story gets told in a way that will live on for future generations."
In the quest for historic accuracy, the Museum and the Beyond All Boundaries team researched the world’s great film archives to uncover rare footage. “Viewers will be excited to see that we’ve gone beyond the typical World War II footage,” said Seth Paridon, Manager of Research Services for The National WWII Museum. Paridon and his staff spent years going through film archives to secure rarely viewed footage that has been often overlooked by filmmakers and documentarians for a truly unique experience. Leading historians, such as Don Miller, also consulted on the historic production.
This project challenged Hettema’s skilled technicians to incorporate authentic props into the experience. To broadcast news of Pearl Harbor, for example, the script called for a 1940s radio. Hettema’s subcontractors located a manufacturer who produced a vintage speaker pattern fabric from the World War II era to use in its construction. A concentration camp guard tower is based on the design of actual towers at Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Other props were painstakingly researched, constructed, and then coordinated by banks of computers to merge seamlessly with the action unfolding on screen. Some even rise, literally, from the floor, hidden in an 18-foot-deep pit, or descend from the Theater’s ceiling. The result is an armchair seat to history told in a way far removed from history books. And this armchair rumbles when the tanks come through.
“What the audience will see in front of them really happened,” says Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, President and CEO of The National WWII Museum. “Be it digital animation, a celebrity voiceover in the first person, or actual historical video and audio, visitors can’t get any closer to the actual war experience than inside The Solomon Victory Theater.”
As thrilling as Beyond All Boundaries is, the experience is only one part of the Museum’s quest to educate their patrons’ senses. The complex also houses the 150-seat Stage Door Canteen entertainment venue and a full-service restaurant and bar called The American Sector.
How Beyond All Boundaries came to be made by Executive Producer Tom Hanks and Phil Hettema, former Senior Vice President, Attraction Development of Universal is as fascinating as the experience itself.