On Deadly Ground
|On Deadly Ground|
|Directed by||Steven Seagal|
|Produced by||Steven Seagal
A. Kitman Ho
Julius R. Nasso
|Written by||Ed Horowitz &
Robin U. Russin
R. Lee Ermey
John C. McGinley
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Editing by||Don Brochu
Robert A. Ferretti
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||February 18, 1994 (USA)|
|Running time||101 min|
|Budget||$50 million (estimated)|
|Box office||$38,590,500 (USA)|
On Deadly Ground is a 1994 environmental action-adventure film, co-produced, directed by and starring Steven Seagal, and co-starring an all-star cast that includes Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Kenji Nakano, and Billy Bob Thornton in one of his early appearances. The film held a #1 position at the box office and exemplified the dangers of pollution. It earned $38.6 million during its theatrical run, failing to bring back its reported $50 million budget and received negative reviews.
Aegis Oil operates Aegis 1, an oil refinery and several oil rigs in Alaska. They purchased the oil rights from the local Eskimos twenty years ago, but will lose them if the refinery isn’t on-line by a certain deadline. With 13 days to go, and billions of dollars at stake, the company cuts corners and uses faulty equipment. Hugh Palmer, a rig foreman, is aware of this; as he predicts, his rig catches fire. It takes Forrest Taft (Seagal), a specialist in dealing with oil drilling-related fires, to extinguish the fire. Taft refuses to believe Hugh’s story of faulty equipment, but discovers that it’s true after accessing the company’s computer records. Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), the ruthless CEO of Aegis, believes that Hugh's carelessness is to blame and arranges for him to be ‘dealt with’ by his henchmen MacGruder (John C. McGinley) and Otto (Sven-Ole Thorsen).
Jennings is alerted to Taft's activities and orders that Taft be also removed. MacGruder and Otto torture and murder Palmer. Taft is set up for a trap by investigating a supposedly damaged pump station. He is badly wounded by an explosion, but survives and is rescued by Masu (Joan Chen), the daughter of Silook, the chief of her tribe.
MacGruder and Otto are unable to locate Taft's body, and Jennings assumes that he is still alive. Taft is being cared for by Silook's tribe. After unsuccessfully trying to leave, using a dogsled, Silook has Taft undergo a vision quest in which he sees the truth. When made to choose between two women, Taft opts for the elderly, clothed grandmother, forgoing the erotically-charged nude Eskimo seductress. The grandmother warns Taft that time is running out for those who pollute the world. Taft realizes that he has no choice but to see the refinery closed. He leaves, with MacGruder and Otto hot on his trail.
At Silook's village, they demand to know where Taft is. Silook refuses to give the information and is fatally shot by MacGruder. Jennings berates MacGruder for killing Silook. They bring in a group of New Orleans based mercenaries led by Stone (R. Lee Ermey) to finish off Taft before he can stop Aegis 1 from going on-line. They also have an FBI Anti-Terrorist Unit at the refinery.
Accompanied by Masu, Taft (who is probably ex-CIA and an expert on sabotage and demolition), collects weapons and explosives and manages to enter the refinery complex. MacGruder (who was killed by Taft by throwing him in the helicopter's propeller for killing Hugh and Silook), Otto (who was killed earlier at Hugh's cabin) and Jennings’ ruthlessly efficient female assistant Liles (who crashed her truck on a gasoline tank), are powerless to stop him and are all killed in various gruesome ways.
Taft and Masu confront Jennings and string him up, dropping him into the oil, effectively drowning him in his own wealth. A series of explosions destroy the rest of Aegis 1.
As an epilogue, Taft, far from being arrested for sabotage and multiple murders (self defense), 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. This speech is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's monologue at the end of The Great Dictator. This speech at the end of the film is parodied in the South Park episode Over Logging. During the speech they show a scene of one of the first commercial hydrogen fuel cell systems developed by Perry Energy Systems.
- Steven Seagal as Forrest Taft, a specialist who puts out oil fires who ran an afoul with Ageis Oil
- Michael Caine as Michael Jennings, a corrupt, ruthless CEO of Aegis Oil and the film's main antagonist
- Joan Chen as Masu, the daughter of Eskimo tribe chief Silook
- John C. McGinley as MacGruder, chief of security of Aegis Oil and Jennings' main henchmen
- R. Lee Ermey as Stone, the leader of the mercenary group based in New Orleans
- Shari Shattuck as Liles, Jennings' treacherous secretary
- Billy Bob Thornton as Homer Carlton, one of Stone's men
- Richard Hamilton as Hugh Palmer, rig foreman of Aegis Oil
- Chief Irvin Brink as Silook, chief of the Alaskan Eskimo tride
- Apanguluk Charlie Kairaiuak as Tunrak
- Elsie Pistolhead as Takanapsaluk
- John Trudell as Johnny Redfeather
- Mike Starr as Big Mike
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as Otto (as Swen-Ole Thorsen), Jennings' henchman
- Jules Desjarlais as Drunken Eskimo
- Irvin Kershner as Walters, the director of the Aegis Oil commercial
Critical response 
At the time of its release Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel included the film in their "Worst of" list for 1994, singling out the melancholy tone of the film, and the quality of Seagal's dialogue. Ebert in particular singled out the speech by Seagal's character that concluded the film, which he saw as extraneous, and an example of the film's "egotistical vanity scenes", as well as its inaccuracies.
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 Ebert, Klady also singled out the speech by Seagal's character at the end of the film.
On Deadly Ground was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Steven Seagal), Worst Actress (Joan Chen), Worst Screenplay and Worst Original Song ("Under the Same Sun"), with Seagal "winning" Worst Director.
- On Deadly Ground, Rotten Tomatoes, accessed May 24, 2011.
- Siskel, Gene, Ebert, Robert. (1994). "Siskel and Ebert at the movies: Best and worst of 1994" [Television recording] Buena-Vista Entertainment Ltd
- Klady, Leonard. "On Deadly Ground Review", Variety, February 21, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.
- Harrington, Ricard. "On Deadly Ground (R)", The Washington Post, February 19, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.