Now, to anyone with knowledge of the action film genre, the assessment of ‘On Deadly Ground’ as a “Cult favourite” might seem a strange one. So how exactly did The Guardian come up with that? Well the answer would appear to be quite simple; they lifted it from Wikipedia. The Wiki entry for the film informs us; “It was a commercial and critical failure” but “In later recent years, it has gained a cult following”.
The Telegraph displayed a similar level of journalistic integrity by reworking Wikipedia’s “stereotypical and campy” as “corny” and “ridiculous”. They then went one step further, claiming it had ; “gained a cult following in recent years due to the graphic and excessive nature of the violence” neatly crossing the line between plagiarism and total reinvention.
This level of integrity extended to their description of a key scene from the film in which, we were told, Seagal’s character quips “Well, let’s see, that’s natives eight, oil workers zero.” after he had, “Killed a number of his foes”. In fact during the scene in question (A bar brawl) not a single person is killed, nor indeed is anyone up until that point in the narrative. Unsurprising it seems their research had not extended as far as actually watching the film they were commenting on. Interestingly enough this very scene was screened on the Guardian’s film blog as part of a ‘bar brawl’ article published a week before the shootings.
The Telegraph finished their article by referring to the statement of Professor Kevin Browne who had “Told MPs last year that violent action films were fuelling crime.” He apparently said, “If you live on a diet of hit first and ask questions later, then you are likely to copy what that violent hero does, for example Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and to a certain extent Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Helpfully, we were given a link to his statement , where we learned that he had continued to say, “They play heroes who are to an extent violent first and (young people) will copy their heroes and that violence if they come from a violent background.” The Telegraph clearly felt this quantifying statement didn’t suite the slant of their article.
By now it was clear that the journalists were keen to make us aware just how violent this film really was, The News of the World referred to it as “Violent Steven Seagal film” The Express choose “Violent action film” whilst The Times went with “A film with multiple killings”. The Mail by now had realised it’s earlier mistake and curiously managed to amalgamate all of the above into “Violent action film On Deadly Ground, starring Steven Seagal, which features multiple killings.”
It seemed it was impossible to mention the film without referring to it’s violent nature. Curious then that the Mail’s own TV guide had previously described the film as follows: “A tough fire fighter sets out to stop the destruction of native tribes and the environment by an unscrupulous oil company planning to drill in Alaska. Environmental thriller directed by and staring Steven Seagal” No mention there of violence , killing or even action.
The Mail’s guide was also helpful enough to point out something that so far all the journalists had neglected to mention, the fact that the film was certified 15 by the BBFC. Strange that in 1994 (When film censorship was at it‘s most stringent in the UK) a film containing such a high level of violence would not have been awarded an 18 certificate. In fact it transpires that the UK version of the film was trimmed of much of it’s violence to achieve it’s lower certificate, and this soft cut was the version that Bird would have viewed. This information was of course omitted from any of the articles connecting the film to the case.