Say what you want about Steven Seagal. The 1992 film “Under Siege” might be one of the best Navy movies ever made and maybe one of the Navy's greatest recruiting tools -- even if it’s not the most accurate.
For anyone who doesn’t remember or never knew the apex of Seagal’s film career, “Under Siege” is best described as “Die Hard” on a boat. But for all the knockoffs that came in the wake of “Die Hard,” this movie and its two Academy Award nominations stands tall on the quarterdeck.
Seagal plays Casey Ryback, the cook aboard the battleship USS Missouri. As the Missouri makes its way to California to be decommissioned, it’s taken over by mercenaries led by an ex-CIA operative. They quickly discover Ryback is more than a cook; he’s a former Navy SEAL.
The mercenaries imprison the crew while trying to offload nuclear-armed Tomahawk missiles so they can sell them to North Korea. During the attempt, Ryback (spoiler alert) kills them all with the help of Miss July 1989.
Seagal might be missing his trademark ponytail, but no one’s hair is in regs. Here’s why Navy recruiters should be handing out free copies anyway.
1. There’s a lot of beautiful Navy footage.
Sure, battleships aren’t out roaming the seas anymore, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t awesome to look at. Even though some of the footage isn’t the Missouri (most of the film features the South Dakota-class USS Alabama standing in for Missouri), the filmmakers got some majestic battleship shots, so you can still get an appreciation for these monsters. The opening credits sequence is basically a Navy commercial.
Viewers also get a good look at naval aviation in the form of an FA/18, a CH-46 Sea Knight carrying a team of SEALs and the badass raw power of the Navy's CIWS, Harpoon missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles at work. They even get a taste of the battleship’s 16-inch guns firing on terrorists.
2. It reminds us of the Navy’s World War II days.
At the beginning of the movie, the filmmakers recorded a speech from President George H.W. Bush commemorating the battleships’ long service to the Navy at Pearl Harbor. In the background, the USS Arizona memorial can be seen, along with numerous ships “manning the rails” for the battleships.
There are even World War II veterans aboard the ship, visitors who somehow managed to go undetected by the mercenaries. A salty old gunner’s mate even teaches the loose crewmembers how to fire the Missouri’s guns.
3. The movie outright quotes a Navy recruiting slogan.
Somewhere in the course of the film, Seagal and his band of rescued sailors acquire enough weapons to try to retake the ship. One of them was hesitant to take up arms, telling Seagal he was ironing during the Gulf War and isn’t cut out for combat. Seagal replies, “You’re in the Navy. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”
“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” was the Navy’s longest-running recruiting slogan. First coined in 1976, the phrase came about because the draft was gone and the Navy needed to entice volunteer recruits. It ran until 1986 but was still memorable. By the time the movie was released, the Navy was using the slogan, “You and the Navy Full Speed Ahead.”
4. “Under Siege” is full of historical easter eggs.
The opening credit sequence where President Bush gives his speech at Pearl Harbor covers a real speech, but comes in the context of a fake newscast created by the filmmakers to explain the power of the USS Missouri. It covers the Iowa-class battleships’ trial by fire in WWII and explains how they served through the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
Later in the film, an F/A-18 flies by the battleship when it stops responding via radio. In the background, radio chatter can be heard. This is actually real Navy radio chatter from the United States F-14s attacking Libyan aircraft in January 1989. It also describes how Navy SEALs were tasked with taking airports in Panama, a job usually reserved for the Army.
5. It shows real changes in Navy policies regarding nuclear weapons.
In “Under Siege,” the Missouri is ferrying nuclear-armed Tomahawk missiles to California, which is central to the movie’s plot, but it also reflects the reality of post-Cold War politics. In 1991, President Bush ordered that all surface ships in the U.S. Navy no longer could carry nuclear weapons. Accidents happen aboard surface ships, and the policy was intended to mitigate the risks to those weapons.
The last nuclear weapon aboard a surface ship was offloaded in 1992. Ballistic missile submarines still carry nuclear missiles, but the risk of accidents is far less aboard a sub.
6. The Navy gets all the credit. For everything.
Navy SEALs and naval aviators notwithstanding, the rest of the Navy generally doesn’t get credit for being hardasses outside of World War II movies. But aside from the fact that Seagal’s character is a SEAL, regular Navy sailors come out looking pretty good, even when held captive for most of the movie. When they’re finally freed, they look ready to come out shooting and retake the ship.
To top it all off, the Marines in “Under Siege” don’t fare too well. One Marine Corps private first class gets disrespected by everyone until mercenaries kill him. The rest get tossed around like sacks of potatoes, which is not the usual treatment Hollywood gives Marines. No one is going across the street to the Marine Corps recruiter after watching this.
The Navy makes the CIA look like a bunch of scheming tools, the Marines look like bumbling goobers and hired mercenaries look like amateurs. Even the Navy’s laundry sailors can turn into badasses with just a little inspiration.
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