Lost executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse told the story to Entertainment Weekly. The summary is that Lindelof and Cuse wanted some kind of visual identifier to bring together the idea that this island was like a cork on a bottle of evil. The symbol was going to be a volcano, and it would have been set up in the third to last episode. In that episode, where we learned the backstory of Jacob and the Man in Black, Jacob was going to throw the Man in Black into the volcano, turning him into the smoke monster that debuted in season one.
Then, in the series finale, Locke and Jack were going to fight on the volcano as it got ready to erupt—kind of a natural-disaster ticking clock, with tremors, lava, and, eventually, good triumphing over evil. Lost even set up the idea of the volcano being on the island some time prior, in a third season episode that featured a Dharma classroom. And yet, it ended up getting scrapped.
Money woes and writing by the seat of their pants.
Jeff Jensen, the waterboy for the series theorists, writes:
Carlton Cuse, Lost’s longtime co-showrunner, got the idea for the volcano in the early years of the show after visiting Hawaii’s Big Island with his family, taking a volcano tour and marveling at the landscape. He thought it would be cool if The Island had a volcano of its own. “We were always looking to cannibalize anything on Hawaii to aid in the visual storytelling of the show,” says Cuse. “We also thought of the island as a character on the show, so we were always looking for things that would give it more personality.” He didn’t have an idea of how the volcano could be used, “but it was something we banked and thought we could use downstream.”
The volcano stayed in the back pocket until the producers started developing Lost’s concluding seasons. The premise that developed over time was that the volcano was a mysterious place that forged the ticking, shape-shifting monster, the billowing black mass known as Smokey. By season 6, the writers had settled on the concept that the island was like a cork that bottled up all sorts of bad stuff, some volatile stew of spiritual dark matter stuff that would rob life of meaning and goodness if unleashed. “The question was always, how do you basically visualize and dramatize the idea that the island itself is all that separates the world from hellfire and damnation?” says Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof. “And the answer was the volcano.”
Lindelof and Cuse initially envisioned a finale in which Jack (Matthew Fox) and Smokey incarnate (Terry O’Quinn) would brawl over the fate of the island at Lost’s proverbial Mount Doom. “The volcano had been dormant for the duration of the series,” explains Lindelof, “but based on moving into this endgame, the island had become unstable and the volcano was going to erupt. We were going to have lots of seismic activity, and ultimately, there was going to be this big fight between the forces of good and the forces of evil, which ended up in the series manifesting as Jack and The Man in Black, in the midst of magma. Magma spewing everywhere!”
And so it went that Cuse and Lindelof decided to end Lost by reigniting an actual volcano and spraying their cast with actual skin-searing magma. Just kidding. But they were determined to fake it the best they could. “It would be visually stunning and really exciting for the audience,” says Lindelof. “After six years and around 121 hours of the show, we had shot literally every part of Oahu that we could for island scenes and flashbacks. So the idea that, for the finale, we could go to this new locale that’s going to look new and different and unique, primal and ancient and end-of-the-world-ish, that would be great.”
The volcano wouldn’t have come out of the blue. The producers planned to take us there in Lost’s third-to-last episode, “Across The Sea,” a major mythological outing that revealed the origin story of The Island’s long-lived protector, Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), and his unnamed brother, The Man in Black (Titus Welliver), and dramatized the latter’s transformation into Smokey. You would have seen Jacob drag his mother-killing sibling up the slopes of the volcano and toss him into its smoldering, monster-making crater.
And this is where the people who wrote the checks for Lost put a stopper in Operation: Magma Spew. At some point in all the plotting, planning, and prepping for season 6, ABC calculated that it couldn’t afford the transportation cost. Not helping the cause: The set for the temple, a refuge for Jacob’s chosen ones and a key location in the first half of season 6, turned out to be very expensive. Says Lindelof: “ABC was like, ‘Guys, we love you, and we’re letting you end the show; we can’t let you bankrupt the network in the process.’” And that’s how Smokey’s crucible — Lost’s version of Buffy’s Hellmouth — was re-imagined as a cave of light and the fight between Jack and the monster was filmed on the cliffs of Oahu.
Cuse says The Volcano That Never Really Was speaks to how practical factors, models of production, and s— happens variables affect the execution and finale form of big saga serials. Lost was marked by several such stories. Perhaps the most well-known involved Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, whose Mr. Eko was a season 2 breakout. The producers loved writing for Mr. Eko (his showcase episode in season 2, “The 23rd Psalm,” written by Cuse and Lindelof, is one of Lost’s best) and envisioned a prolonged conflict with John Locke (O’Quinn) that would have made the middle seasons of the series quite different. When the actor abruptly ankled Lost the second season, the producers had to create a new story for Locke and other characters impacted by his sudden departure. (Akinnuoye-Agbaje stuck around for a few episodes to shoot Mr. Eko’s death-by-Smokey exit episode.)
Still, Cuse and Lindelof do think scratching the volcano was for the best. Lindelof says the producers came to believe during the writing of season 6 that it would be better if some ideas about The Island remained metaphorical or mysterious, things to be interpreted, not explained.
>>>> I have to disagree with the notion that Budget Killed the Volcano. You can use stock film footage of an eruption with close up footage of characters panicked reactions; and waves of ash clouds as they flee from the jungle.
The "monster making" volcano would explain how one is made but not WHAT it is. We got some circumstantial evidence of monster creation in Light Cave when Jack "rebooted" the island cork. But that was placed in the context of rebalancing good and evil not creating a monster. (Even though some say that the body of Jacob's brother was washed into the cave, knocking over the cork and thus creating the Man in Black.)
But if the volcano was supposed to be the climatic star of the Series 6 final episodes, why did the production crew spend so much time and money on the Egyptian symbols and the temple if the temple concepts were immaterial to the resolution of the story?
This story shows that the show runners and writers were struggling to find a way to end the series. There were too many ideas but not enough continuity to resolve the series story lines. Instead, it was decided not to answer the questions but create a final "character study" of the cast as they passed into the afterlife.