I barely watch movies at all, but I made an exception for The Hobbit. There were a number of changes, but Peter Jackson (unlike the directors of the Chronicles of Narnia movies) really seems to understand what was important to Tolkien. Yes, I know at least one person who probably will think that the additions to the story have produced the cinematic version of Saruman’s Isengard. (That means pollution. Lots of it.)
There were a few changes I could have done without, of course. But I do understand why they were made. And, in general, they were in tune with the spirit, if not the specifics, of the books. Such as the characterization of Saruman.
I was curious about how Saruman would be portrayed from the time I first knew that the White Council would be included in the movie. When all your viewers know that one of your main characters is a wizard in the process of going bad, you have to play it right. And Saruman is certainly played right. Actually his increasingly bad moral fiber is probably a moviemaker’s delight—there can now be a “bad guy” among the Wise without ruining Elrond or Galadriel.
In this first installment of The Hobbit, Saruman still supports the “good” side. But he has begun to believe that great deeds are the only way to hold back the forces of evil. And that, although I don’t recall Tolkien using it as an explanation of Saruman’s later betrayal, fits very well with the explanation Tolkien did offer—that Saruman, in studying Sauron’s devices in order to defeat him, became susceptible to them. In Elrond’s words: “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill.”
In the movie, Saruman is portrayed as someone too interested in “bigness.” Only great evils need be fought, and only great force is sufficient to oppose them. In having those attitudes he is not unlike Sauron. Sauron, of course, would also use small things to advance his cause, but his cause was the cause of bigness itself—of uniting everything under his own power. Gandalf loves little hobbits. Radagast loves small animals. Elrond and Galadriel love the nuances of their own culture. But Saruman—like Sauron—is mainly concerned about what is great and important.
In the end, it is the small decisions that destroy a culture. Tyrants do not walk into a vacuum. Somewhere somebody made a wrong choice. Their neighbors made the same choice. It takes many pieces of gravel to pave a road.
Saruman, according to The Lord of the Rings, eventually took the problems in Mirkwood seriously and successfully planned a way to drive out the Necromancer. But his fascination with “bigness”—and evil itself—worsened. It was not long before he turned himself into “Saruman of Many Colors” in order to increase his power. By doing so, he destroyed himself.
Meanwhile, a very small hobbit in a very dark cave had compassion on a very dangerous creature. And in doing so, he saved the world.