On Deadly Ground

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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$78.1 million[2]

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 chooses to fight back against the environmental destruction caused by his ruthless former employer (Caine).


Aegis Oil owns various oil refineries and rigs in Alaska, where the company faces great opposition from the public due to the increasing environmental damage done by its operations. Aegis had purchased the oil production rights from the local Tribal Council 20 years prior; however, the rights will revert to the natives if Aegis 1, the company's newest oil platform and biggest refinery, is not online within a certain deadline. In order to make the deadline in the face of multiple delays, CEO Michael Jennings forces his workers to use substandard parts.

Foreman Hugh Palmer's rig suffers a blowout due to the faulty parts. Trained firefighter Forrest Taft extinguishes the blaze. However, they have become suspicious of their company’s consistently poor safety record. Taft manages to hack into the company’s computer files and learn about the faulty parts. After being informed of Palmer's efforts to alert the Environmental Protection Agency and of Taft's access to restricted files, Jennings arranges for both of them to be eliminated by his Chief Security Officer, MacGruder and his assistant Otto. The two ransack Palmer's cabin and brutally torture and murder him when he refuses to cooperate. Meanwhile, Taft is ordered by Jennings to head over to another accident site, but realizes too late that the damaged building has been rigged as a booby trap. Taft narrowly survives the ensuing explosion and is rescued by Masu, the daughter of Inuit tribe chief Silook.

At the behest of Silook, Taft undergoes a vision quest in which he sees the full truth and vows to make amends for his part in Aegis's crimes. Meanwhile, the Aegis security team tracks him to Silook's village and when the tribe refuses to cooperate with them, a confrontation ensues, ending with MacGruder fatally shooting Silook. Taft returns in time to have one last talk with Silook before he succumbs to his wounds, vowing to avenge him and bring down Aegis.

Taft and Masu make their way to Palmer's cabin. While gathering supplies, they find his incriminating disk containing proof of Aegis's crimes. Otto and two Aegis security guards track the pair back to the cabin. Taft ambushes the party, quickly killing all of them. Jennings then deploys a squad of mercenaries led by an older man code-named “Stone”, but Taft manages to evade the group by killing several of the members with booby traps and blowing up a shack which obliterates a helicopter, effectively ending their pursuit.

Taft and Masu collect weapons and explosives and proceed to sneak into the refinery complex. Taft sabotages Aegis 1 by killing the main power and forcing a reboot, then releasing hydrochloric acid gas inside the refinery. He then plants a series of C-4 explosive charges onto several oil tanks and in the control room and sets them to a timer.

Jennings has already arrived at the refinery to check on it when he gets word of Taft’s infiltration and orders his henchmen to find and kill him. Taft fights and eventually eliminates every opposing mercenary (including MacGruder and Stone) using firearms, a steel pipe, and even burning gasoline. He then confronts Jennings, condemns him for his greed and corruption, lassos one of his legs with a cable, puts it on a hook and shoots the cable, sending Jennings to his death into a pool of oil sludge. He and Masu then escape the rig just as the hidden C-4 charges detonate, causing a chain of explosions that ravages the entire plant. They flee the exploding refinery in an Aegis truck, escaping as Aegis 1 is torn down by the fire.

Later, Taft, far from being arrested for industrial sabotage and multiple murders, delivers a speech at the Alaska State Capitol about the dangers of oil pollution and the companies that are endangering the ecosystem.[3]



Critical response[edit]

The film received negative reviews and has an approval rating of 12% at rottentomatoes.com.[4] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 33%, based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

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.[7] 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, stated the movie was "limited to two basic qualities: it's violent and it's sanctimonious", and 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, then this'll be a movie for you." His opinion on the ending speech was that it was "absurd", stating, "at the end after Seagal kills about 30 people and blowing up the largest oil refinery in the world, what happens? He's invited to the Alaska State Legislature to give a talk about ecology. I'm not sure, but blowing up oil refineries does not make you that popular in Alaska."[8]

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.[9][10]

The 1996 movie guide "Seen That, Now What?", the film was given the rating of "C-", stating "This combination action/environmental rights movie is an interesting hybrid in concept, but a filmic mess in execution, including embarrassing Eskimo shaman scenes and well-meaning lecture-finale on endangered species."[11]

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."[12] 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.[13]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $38.6 million in the United States and Canada[1] and $78.1 million worldwide[2] against its reported $50 million budget.


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.[14]

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. ^ a b "Top 100 grossers worldwide, '93-94". Variety. October 17, 1994. p. M-56.
  3. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: edstar83 (2010-07-10). Steven Seagal On Deadly Ground. 1994 Ending Speech! (video). Retrieved 2017-12-20 – via YouTube.
  4. ^ "On Deadly Ground (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  5. ^ "On Deadly Ground". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  6. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene, Ebert, Robert. (1994). "Siskel and Ebert at the movies: Best and worst of 1994" [Television recording] Buena-Vista Entertainment Ltd
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Klady, Leonard (22 February 1994). "On Deadly Ground". Variety. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  10. ^ Harrington, Ricard. "On Deadly Ground (R)", The Washington Post, February 19, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.
  11. ^ Shaw, Andrea (1996). Seen That, Now What?: The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Video You Really Want to Watch. Simon and Schuster. p. 42. ISBN 9780684800110.
  12. ^ Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books. p. 69. ISBN 978-0857687227.
  13. ^ Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-0857687227.
  14. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Strauss, Bob (December 30, 1994). "At the Movies: Quantity Over Quality". Los Angeles Daily News (Valley ed.). p. L6.
  17. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  18. ^ Travers, Peter (December 29, 1994). "The Best and Worst Movies of 1994". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  19. ^ Mayo, Mike (December 30, 1994). "The Hits and Misses at the Movies in '94". The Roanoke Times (Metro ed.). p. 1.
  20. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  21. ^ Webster, Dan (January 1, 1995). "In Year of Disappointments, Some Movies Still Delivered". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane ed.). p. 2.

External links[edit]