On Deadly Ground

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
On Deadly Ground
On deadly ground.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Seagal
Written byEd Horowitz
Robin U. Russin
Produced bySteven Seagal
A. Kitman Ho
Julius R. Nasso
CinematographyRic Waite
Edited byDon Brochu
Robert A. Ferretti
Music byBasil Poledouris
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 18, 1994 (1994-02-18) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
Budget$50 million[1]
Box office$38.6 million[1]

On Deadly Ground is a 1994 American action adventure film directed, co-produced by, and starring Steven Seagal, and co-starring Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley and R. Lee Ermey. It is Seagal's only directorial effort, and features a minor appearance by Billy Bob Thornton in one of his early roles. Seagal plays Forrest Taft, an expert firefighter who decides to fight back against the environmental destruction caused by his ruthless former boss.

On Deadly Ground earned $38.6 million during its theatrical run, failing to bring back its reported $50 million budget, and received negative reviews.


Aegis Oil operates in Upstream and midstream oil production, and owns various oil refineries and oil rigs in Alaska, where the company faces great oppositions from the public, because of the increasing environmental damage produced by its activities. Aegis had purchased oil production rights from the local Tribal Council 20 years before. By the terms of their contract, however, the rights would revert to the natives if Aegis 1, the company's newest oil platform attached with a pier to their biggest refinery, was not on-line within a certain deadline. Further, thirteen days before becoming operational, provisions of blowout preventers to Aegis turn out to be defective.

Unable to legally complete the rig with safe equipment, the company CEO, Michael Jennings, forces his employees to use the substandard blowout preventers. Hugh Palmer, a rig foreman, is aware of this; as he predicts, his rig suffers a blowout due to the faulty BOP. It takes Forrest Taft, a specialist in dealing with oil drilling-related fires, to extinguish the blaze.

Taft refuses to believe Hugh's story of faulty equipment at first, but after being asked by Hugh to look at some Aegis 1 restricted computer files, finds out that shipments of adequate preventers had been delayed by 90 days past the deadline. Jennings tries to put blame for the accident on Hugh's carelessness. After being informed by his efficient female assistant, Liles, of Hugh's efforts to alert the EPA about the use of the substandard equipment, Jennings arranges for Hugh to be eliminated by his Chief Security Officer, MacGruder and his assistant Otto.

Jennings is informed of Taft's restricted file access too, and orders him to be killed as well. MacGruder and Otto then go to Palmer's cabin looking for discs and a book containing evidence of Aegis 1 irregularities. Hugh refuses to cooperate, and after being tortured is killed by Otto with a pipe-cutter. The pair then trash Hugh's cabin without finding the materials.

Subsequently, before Taft can face Jennings with the former's new knowledge, he is set up for a trap by being sent to investigate a supposedly damaged pump station, which is blown up with explosives activated by Macgruder while Taft is inside. Forrest survives and is rescued by Masu, the daughter of Silook, the chief of an Inuit tribe. Meanwhile, during a press conference, Jennings blames the recent accidents at Aegis facilities on Palmer and Taft, and states that they died in the latter explosion. However, MacGruder and Otto are unable to locate Taft's body. Jennings senses that Taft is still alive, and orders his hitmen to use the company helicopter to search for him.

Forrest receives care from Silook's tribe. After unsuccessfully trying to leave using a dogsled, Taft undergoes a vision quest at the behest of Silook, in which Taft sees the truth. When made to choose between two women, Taft opts for an elderly, clothed grandmother, forgoing an erotically-charged nude Iñupiaq seductress. The grandmother warns Taft that time is running out for those who pollute the world. Taft realizes that his only option is to see the refinery closed. He leaves the Inuit settlement, with MacGruder and Otto hot on his trail.

Landing at Silook's village, MacGruder demands to know where Taft is. Silook refuses to give any information, and is fatally shot by MacGruder. Jennings then berates MacGruder for killing Silook in front of the chief's entire tribe, and orders him off the search party.

Forrest and Masu reach Hugh's trashed cabin, looking for Forrest's backpack that contains supplies. Instead, they find Aegis' incriminating disk. Meanwhile, Otto and the Aegis security team trace the pair back to the cabin, and proceed to storm the place with Forrest and Masu inside. Forrest hides and successfully ambushes the aggressors, killing two guards simultaneously. A gunfight ensures, and Forrest is able to beat Otto and another guard to death after everyone runs out of bullets.

At the estate of a friend of Forrest's, Masu and Forrest accesses the incriminating disc, which turns out to contain alarming readings relating to gas pressure in the Aegis 1 oil well. Particularly important are abnormal quantities of BTX gas, which the faulty preventer can't contain. Forrest realizes that Jennings is knowingly causing an oil spill in order to keep the oil rights, and later profit off the empty oil field by refilling it with toxic substances. With little time left to alert authorities, Forrest decides to resort to violence in order to prevent Aegis Oil from committing the crime.

Meanwhile, under suggestion from MacGruder, Jennings hires a group of New Orleans-based mercenaries led by a roughneck named Stone to prevent Taft from stopping Aegis 1 going on-line. While being pursued by Stone's men, Taft and Masu collect weapons and explosives stashed by him in the mountains, and then proceed to sneak into the refinery complex.

Forrest begins to effectively sabotage the refinery by tampering with the generator and the main circuit breaker, as the breaker shorts, causing a blackout and the platform's systems to reboot, Forrest detonates a Fluid catalytic cracking unit, and releases Hydrochloric acid gas inside the refinery. This causes the evacuation of the plant, and the immediate withdrawal of an FBI anti-terrorism unit that had been summoned by Liles, suggesting that Taft is a former CIA agent, as speculated by Stone.

MacGruder and Liles, fearing Taft's retribution, attempt to leave the scene via the company helicopter, but are intercepted by Forrest, who shoots off the back tail of the aircraft. Forrest proceeds to grab and kill the fleeing MacGruder, who falsely attempts to bargain for his life, by slamming him into the back rotor of the helicopter. Liles attempts to escape by car, but is distracted by the scene and crashes into an oil tanker, which explodes. Although the platform and the refinery compromised, Jennings, still wanting to legally keep his oil rights by personally activating the Aegis 1 pumpjack, heads for the platform, guarded by Stone and his crew. Taft enters the rig shortly after, and eliminates every opposing mercenary on the way to the preventer, including Stone, whom he disarms and shoots with Stone's own shotgun. Unknown to Jennings, who is about to activate the pumps, Forrest already entered the Aegis 1 control room and fatally sabotaged the rig's safety measures, and had placed C-4 in the key structures of the refinery and around the BOP, in order to "implode" it and prevent the spill.

After charging the timed explosives and fighting off the remaining mercenaries, Forrest and Masu happen into Jennings, who is busy operating the pumpjack controls. Forrest holds Jennings at gunpoint and insults him, recalling all the people he made suffer. Jennings, however, ignores Taft, orders him to stop his sabotaging and walks away. Forrest then lassoes Jennings by the leg, drags him, and hangs him on a crane above the platform drilling shaft. Masu pleads with Taft to shoot Jennings, who taunts Forrest one last time before being dropped by Taft to his death into a pool of oil sludge, leaked from the faulty blowout preventer. Forrest and Masu leave the rig just as the hidden C4 charges blow up the BOP, which, as Forrest planned, causes a chain of explosions that ravages the whole plant. They manage to flee the exploding refinery in an Aegis truck, escaping as Aegis 1 is completely torn down by the fire.

As an epilogue, Taft, far from being arrested for industrial sabotage and multiple murders, is asked to deliver a speech at the Alaska State Capitol about the dangers of oil pollution and the companies that are endangering the ecosystem.[2]

In a mid-credit scene, Forrest and Masu go canoe in an Alaskan lake, Masu gleefully admires the scenery, when Forrest spots a Raven, Silook's spirit animal, flying away.


  • Steven Seagal as Forrest Taft, a firefighter and blowout specialist with a mysterious past, who puts out oil fires and runs afoul of Aegis Oil
  • Michael Caine as Michael Jennings, the wealthy CEO of Aegis Oil
  • Joan Chen as Masu, the daughter of Eskimo tribe chief Silook
  • John C. McGinley as MacGruder, the ruthless chief of security of Aegis Oil and Jennings' main henchman
  • R. Lee Ermey as Stone, the leader of the mercenary group based in New Orleans
  • Shari Shattuck as Liles, Jennings' personal assistant.
  • Billy Bob Thornton as Homer Carlton, one of Stone's most competent men. Killed in the process of defending the Aegis 1 control room, he is blown up along with another mercenary by a claymore mine placed by Taft in an elevator
  • Richard Hamilton as Hugh Palmer, rig foreman of Aegis Oil and a good friend of Taft's
  • Chief Irvin Brink as Silook, chief of the Alaskan Eskimo tribe
  • Apanguluk Charlie Kairaiuak as Tunrak
  • Elsie Pistolhead as Takanapsaluk
  • John Trudell as Johnny Redfeather
  • Mike Starr as Mike 'Big Mike'
  • Sven-Ole Thorsen as Otto, Jennings' other henchman
  • Jules Desjarlais as Drunken Eskimo
  • Irvin Kershner as Walters, the director of the Aegis Oil commercial
  • Bart the Bear as The Bear
  • Frank “Sonny” Sisto as Native dancer
  • Louise Fletcher as the bartender (uncredited)


Critical response[edit]

The film has an approval rating of 12%, based reviews from 33 critics.[3] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 33%, based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[4] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[5]

At the time of its release, Gene Siskel included the film in his "Worst of" list for 1994, singling out the melancholy tone of the film and the quality of Seagal's dialogue.[6] On their syndicated TV show Siskel & Ebert, Siskel called the film's pyrotechnics "low rent" and stated that he "didn't think the fight sequences were anything special." He noted that Seagal's speech at the end was "more interesting than the actual fighting." Roger Ebert, for his part, called the speech "absurd" and "shameless" but opined that while "it doesn't pay to devote close attention to the plot", "if you like to see lots of stuff blowed up real good, this’d be a movie for you."[7]

Variety film critic Leonard Klady referred to the film as "a vanity production parading as a social statement" and commented that the film seemingly borrowed heavily from the earlier film Billy Jack, but opined that Seagal lacked "acting technique and the ability behind the camera to keep the story simple and direct" that Billy Jack star Tom Laughlin exhibited. Like Siskel, Klady also singled out the speech by Seagal's character at the end of the film.[8][9]

Seagalogy author Vern considers On Deadly Ground to be one of Seagal's defining works, writing, "It's the corniest, most unintentionally hilarious movie of his career... But it's also Seagal's most sincere and his most ballsy," going on to claim, "You can't understand Seagal if you haven't seen On Deadly Ground."[10] He points out that many of the most important themes and motifs that define Seagal's work are present in the film, and more overtly so than in any of his other films.[11]


The film received six Golden Raspberry Awards nominations, and won in the Worst Director category. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[12]

Award Category Subject Result
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Actress Joan Chen Nominated
Worst Actor Steven Seagal Nominated
Worst Director Won
Worst Picture Nominated
A. Kitman Ho Nominated
Julius R. Nasso Nominated
Worst Screenplay Ed Horowitz Nominated
Robin U. Russin Nominated
Worst Original Song ("Under the Same Sun") Mark Hudson Nominated
Klaus Meine Nominated
Bruce Fairbairn Nominated

Year-end lists[edit]


  1. ^ a b "On Deadly Ground (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  2. ^ edstar83 (2010-07-10). Steven Seagal On Deadly Ground. 1994 Ending Speech! (video). Retrieved 2017-12-20 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ "On Deadly Ground (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  4. ^ "On Deadly Ground". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  5. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene, Ebert, Robert. (1994). "Siskel and Ebert at the movies: Best and worst of 1994" [Television recording] Buena-Vista Entertainment Ltd
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene, Ebert, Robert. (1994). Siskel & Ebert: Sugar Hill / On Deadly Ground / Eight Seconds (1994) (TV). Event occurs at 12:00. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  8. ^ Klady, Leonard (22 February 1994). "On Deadly Ground". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  9. ^ Harrington, Ricard. "On Deadly Ground (R)", The Washington Post, February 19, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.
  10. ^ Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books. p. 69. ISBN 978-0857687227.
  11. ^ Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-0857687227.
  12. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  13. ^ P. Means, Sean (January 1, 1995). "'Pulp and Circumstance' After the Rise of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood Would Never Be the Same". The Salt Lake Tribune (Final ed.). p. E1.
  14. ^ Strauss, Bob (December 30, 1994). "At the Movies: Quantity Over Quality". Los Angeles Daily News (Valley ed.). p. L6.
  15. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  16. ^ Travers, Peter (December 29, 1994). "The Best and Worst Movies of 1994". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  17. ^ Mayo, Mike (December 30, 1994). "The Hits and Misses at the Movies in '94". The Roanoke Times (Metro ed.). p. 1.
  18. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  19. ^ Webster, Dan (January 1, 1995). "In Year of Disappointments, Some Movies Still Delivered". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane ed.). p. 2.

External links[edit]