runs into ground

On Deadly Ground

On Deadly Ground is a 1994 environmental action-adventure film, co-produced, directed by and starring Steven Seagal, and co-starring, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, and Billy Bob Thornton.


Steven Seagal plays Forrest Taft, a specialist in dealing with oil drilling-related fires. At a sight of an oil-well fire, Taft is told by his friend and rig-foreman Hugh Palmer (Richard Hamilton) that Aegis Oil, his employer, is deliberately using faulty preventers on a new refinery in Alaska and is covering up the fact. Forrest refuses to believe it at first but while fighting the fire, discovers that the preventer is in fact faulty. He tells Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), the CEO of Aegis, but is instantly rebuffed and told that the fire was caused by Hugh's carelessness and nothing else.

Later that evening, at a bar, Taft runs into Hugh, who tells him to go to Aegis 1, the new super-rig/refinery to get the answers. After Hugh leaves, Taft takes on 15 oil roughnecks then challenges their leader, Mike (Mike Starr) to a hand-slap game, which Taft easily wins. Meanwhile, back at Aegis, Jennings is making a self-indulgent commercial to convince people he is an environmentalist when he is in fact quite the opposite, saying that animals "stink" after petting one. He thens makes it very clear that if Aegis 1 isn't running in 13 days, he'll lose the oil rights to the Eskimos, costing him countless billions in revenue. He is told that Hugh is planning to reveal the faulty preventers to the EPA. He immediately orders Hugh dealt with by his henchmen MacGruder (John C. McGinley) and Otto (Sven-Ole Thorsen).

At Aegis 1, Taft discovers the truth about the preventers and the fact that the shipment of new ones has been delayed at least 90 days. Jennings is alerted to Taft's accessing information by MacGruder, who volunteers to "deal with that problem" as well. Jennings tells MacGruder to deal with Hugh Palmer first.

Back at Hugh's, Hugh is downloading all his notes onto a disk and erasing his hard drive just as MacGruder and Otto arrive. They first want Hugh to go to Jennings' press conference and take full responsibility for the fire the other day. Hugh refuses, so they then tie him up and make him turn over his notes. Hugh refuses, so Otto cuts him up with a pipe cutter while MacGruder tears his cabin apart in search of the notes.

At the press conference, Jennings' assistant Liles (Shari Shattuck) downplays the environmental impact of the spill saying everything will be fine in a few months. No one believes her and the tribal chief, Ittok, presses Jennings to discuss existing problems caused by his company, to no avail. An eskimo woman, Masu (Joan Chen), pours oil on Jennings saying "the blood of their people is upon him." Jennings is angered by the damage to his suit calling the Eskimos "animals." Taft tells Jennings about his trip to Aegis 1 and expresses his disgust for what Jennings is doing. Jennings goes away to change, then informs Taft of another "accident" and asks for his help.

Taft goes along, but realizes too late that it's a trap set up for him in a bomb-rigged building. Although he is badly wounded in the explosion and blown 1,000 feet in the air, Taft survives and is rescued by Masu (Joan Chen) who's the daughter of Silook, the chief of her tribe.

At another press conference, Jennings states that both the previous oil spill and the latest accident were acts of sabotage carried out by Taft and Palmer. he goes on to say that dead, this should end these "wanton acts of destruction" as well as Ittok's "crass attempts" to sabotage the completion of his refinery on time.

When MacGruder and Otto are unable to locate Taft's body, Jennings assumes he is alive and angrily orders them to keep looking. Meanwhile, Taft is being cared for by Silook's tribe. Silook refers to Taft as a bear (obviously in a positive way) but Taft, out of shame for what he's been part of, however unwittingly, says: "No. I'm a mouse." Silook responds: "That's what the bear would say."

After unsuccessfully trying to leave with a dogsled, Silook has Taft undergo a vision quest in which he sees the truth. When made to choose between two women, Seagal 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 and charges him to teach them that lesson. To make a point, she has Taft place his hand into water, the instant he does, the water changes to oil.

MacGruder and Otto arrive at Silook's village, demanding to know where Taft is. Silook denies knowing, but Otto finds his damaged coat. Enraged, MacGruder roughs Silook up, prompting the tribe to defend him, MacGruder pulls out a gun and kills Silook before leaving. Taft returns just before Silook's death. Silook tells him that he is now a spirit warrior and tells him to fulfill his task.

Jennings berates MacGruder for killing Silook, mostly because of all the witnesses and orders him to increase security for Aegis 1. Taft and Masu leave in a snowmobile for Hugh's cabin, where Forrest finds the notes and disk that Hugh was killed for. Otto and some henchmen arrive at the cabin, but Forrest makes short work of them, killing Otto as well.

When Jennings tells MacGruder just how dangerous Taft is, he suggests hiring a group of New Orleans based mercenaries led by Stone (R. Lee Ermey) to finish off Taft once and for all before he can do anything to stop Aegis One from going on-line.

Taft visits a friend and examine Hugh's disk, which tells him that the moment Aegis 1 goes online, it will explode, causing an unprecedented environmental disaster. Taft gets a cache of weapons ad heads up to his own cabin where he gets a quantity of mines, C4 and other explosives. Meanwhile, Stone, MacGruder and his mercs are looking for Taft. Stone reveals that Taft may have once been CIA, making him even worse of a problem. Over the course of the hunt, Taft destroys their chopper and kills two of their team.

At Aegis 1, Jennings has acquired the help of an FBI Anti-Terrorist Unit, who prove to be quite useless as they bail right after the first few explosions. Forrest goes through everyone who tries to stop him with minimal effort. MacGruder and Liles realize they shouldn't be there and flee. Taft kills MacGruder while Liles crashes into a gasoline tank and explodes. Jennings, still determined to succeed, decides to get one pump on-line, which will keep his leases no matter what happens. As this is happening, all of Jennings' workers are fleeing, with Jennings calling them "gutless pricks". Taft manages to set some charges in a configuration that will result in an implosion in order to prevent an oil spill. Stone confronts Taft, but Taft manages to kill him with his own weapon.

After a few more mercenaries are killed, Taft and Masu confront Jennings who immediately derides Masu, saying that he and Taft bought better whores for $5 in Bangkok. Taft realizes that no environmental preaching will have any effect on Jennings. So when Jennings tries to leave, Taft lassos him and leaves him to dangle over a pool of oil. Jennings angrily dares Taft to shoot him, calling him a coward and saying that he has no guts. Taft refuses to "dirty his bullets", but after Masu asks him to dirty one, Taft shoots the rope, causing Jennings to fall into the oil, effectively drowning him in his own wealth. Taft and Masu then flee the area just as the implosion occurs and a series of explosions destroy the rest of Aegis 1.

Forrest Taft as the Vigilante Environmentalist

Most of Seagal's movies are stereotypical of the action film genre, especially in portraying the protagonist's use of the classic combination of martial arts and proficiency in the use of firearms and explosives. In line with the theme of his later movies, the character played by Seagal not only displays his prowess in martial arts, but also shows a wide array of knowledge and an astounding depth of skill in weapons and demolition. Aside from his inventory of skills in hand-to-hand combat, Forrest Taft is also depicted as a skilled marksman and demolition specialist. As a former CIA field operative, he has access to various firearms and munitions. Notable examples of weapons (both conventional and improvised) used by Taft throughout the movie include:

  • a 12-gauge Shotgun, with which he dispatches the attackers in Hugh's cabin;
  • a .45 ACP hidden in Hugh's spare bedroom;
  • a pair of M18A1 Claymore Antipersonnel Mines; the first used to harass the mercenaries trailing him, and the second detonated inside an elevator on the level defended by marksmen employed by Aegis Oil;
  • an M14 Rifle, used in the battle on the Aegis-1 Oil Rig;
  • a USAS-12 automatic shotgun
  • a submachine gun
  • an impressive quantity of C4 and other explosives, used throughout the film, especially in sabotaging the Aegis-1 Oil Platform;
  • M67 grenades, used along with the C4 to destroy the pursuing helicopter .


Departing from the usual action movie protocol, Forrest Taft does not have a traditional sidekick; rather Seagal's only foil is Masu, with whom he develops a romantic friendship, the norm for Steven Seagal's films.

Male anatomy takes center stage, but is strangely showcased without any (intentional) humor: Overdubbed sound portions of the first fight scene are notable for Taft's victims calling out the injured portions of their bodies ("my nuts!" and "my balls!"), as Taft puts them in their place. These voice tracks do not match the film, as the victims are either dazed or grimacing, and not visibly vocalizing. During this fight scene, the antagonist also vigorously refers to his own testicles as part of his display of confidence and fortitude.

On Deadly Ground was also criticized for using the context of an action-adventure film to promote an environmentalist message, by those on both sides of the issue. Some environmentalists criticized the film for excessive violence while some opposed to environmentalism criticized the message. The final scene, with Seagal giving a speech about the obsolescence of the internal combustion engine and the need for cleaner alternative fuels, was cut from its original 11 minute length before the film's release after audiences at initial screenings complained it was overlong and preachy.

Reviewer Michael Dequina of called it "a vanity project in the strongest sense of the term, this film has it all: bad acting, bad writing, bad direction, bad action sequences."

Upon release, On Deadly Ground met with generally poor critical reviews, largely because of perceived stereotyping of Native Americans and their spiritual beliefs. It earned $38.6M during its theatrical run.

Some audiences felt that the scene of Hugh Palmer being tortured and killed was too violent and sadistic.

Some film critics characterized the film as rehash of Billy Jack


  • Was parodied in South Park's Season 12 episode Over Logging, when Randy Marsh was giving a speech telling people only to use the internet when they really need to.
  • Seagal agreed to appear in Under Siege 2 if Warner Bros. let him direct this film.
  • Jeremy Irons was originally intended to play Michael Jennings.
  • Originally had titles of Rainbow Warrior and Spirit Warrior, but both were replaced shortly before release.
  • It is rumored that the original cut of the film featured an 11-minute speech at the end by Seagal about pollution. Test audiences reportedly walked out during the closing speech and thus, the film was re-edited.
  • The shotgun used by Forrest Taft in the assault on the refinery is a USAS-12*
  • Other actors who were wanted for the role of Michael Jennings were Anthony Hopkins and Alan Rickman
  • Libby Riddles (first woman to win the Iditarod) worked on the set as a dog sledding coordinator.
  • Ed Horowitz, one of this film's writers, also co-wrote Seagal's 2001 film Exit Wounds.
  • The film was parodied on an episode of Family Guy, in which Seagal fights a number seals who are polluting local water and stealing fish.

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