On Deadly Ground

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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 environmental 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 operations. Aegis had purchased the oil production rights from the local Tribal Council 20 years ago. 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 firefighting and blowout 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. After being informed of Hugh's efforts to alert the Environmental Protection Agency 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 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. Taft 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.

Taft 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.

Taft and Masu reach Hugh's trashed cabin, looking for Taft'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 Taft and Masu inside. Taft hides and successfully ambushes the aggressors, killing two guards simultaneously. A gunfight ensures, and Taft is able to beat Otto and another guard to death after everyone runs out of bullets.

Masu and Taft accesses the incriminating disc, which turns out to contain alarming readings relating to gas pressure in the Aegis 1 oil well. Taft 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, Taft 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.

Taft 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, Taft 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 attempt to but Taft kills them. Jennings 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 prevente. Unknown to Jennings Taft already entered the Aegis 1 control room and fatally sabotaged the rig's safety measures, and had placed C-4 to implode it and prevent the spill. Taft then drops Jennings to his death into a pool of oil sludge, leaked from the faulty blowout preventer. Taft and Masu leave the rig just as the hidden C4 charges blow up, which, as Taft 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]



Critical response[edit]

The film has an approval rating of 12% at rottentomatos.com.[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.

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