If Frank Miller makes a movie, and no one goes to see it, does that matter? In short, yes... yes, it does. Now, there's enough Frank Miller hate floating around these here internets, so I will talk less about his most recent steaming pile of weird Freudian crap and focus more on why he matters, why 'The Spirit' matters, why comic book movies matter, and most importantly, why 'Watchmen' will probably not be any good.
Frank Miller is one of those guys even the non-geeks know. Everybody has that friend who 'doesn't read comics' but has read Dark Knight Returns. Lots of people saw and liked 'Sin City' (which, even I have to admit, was a well-done piece of film-making). But that's not why he matters. He matters because he has that carte blanche to make whatever project he sees fit and to mold it in his own warped image. 'Sin City' and '300' were his own work, transposed to the screen nearly panel for panel, but 'The Spirit' is something else entirely. 'The Spirit' is a revered text. That's not to say it isn't deeply flawed (I showed my girlfriend a picture of Ebony White and she damn near had a stroke), but it's important. It's influential. It was challenging the confines of comic books when the medium was still nascent.
It's not just that Miller's interpretation was his own. That is neither here nor there. The Spirit is not above interpretation. Darwyn Cooke's 12 issue 'Spirit' run was absolutely dynamite, but I'd hardly say it was completely true to Eisner's original vision. If anything, it poked fun at it. The problem is that Hollywood values comic books for style when their real offering is substance, and Frank Miller's cinematic carte blanche typifies that set of priorities. Frank Miller, as a storyteller, has mostly confined his writing to stories of determined struggle against irrevocable, and often fatalistic, circumstance. There is a looming sense of inevitability in his writing which has occasionally allowed him to be brilliant (i.e. Daredevil: Born Again) but mostly makes him drab and predictable. But his best known works are ultimately defined by their aesthetics, be it the ever-present red tones of '300' or the shadowy noir of 'Sin City'.* And it is in this regard that Hollywood has decided that his talents translate to film.
Hopefully, the poor box office showing of 'The Spirit' compared to the huge success of 'The Dark Knight' will shift this thinking. Hopefully, the powers that be in film will start to see that the best offering comics have to mass media is the rich well of character and conflict rather than the stylized imagery. The 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men' films began with this in mind, but these trilogies both withered at the end under the weight of special effects as a substitute for real character development and intelligible plotlines, either of which they could've gotten by, you know, picking up a trade paperback or two.
So where does 'Watchmen' fit into this rant? Simply put: My prediction is that 'Watchmen' will be historically bad. My reason: Zack Snyder. 'Dawn of the Dead' was a fun, campy remake. '300' was so weird it made me squirm in my seat. '300', if run end to end without slow motion, would probably be about six minutes long. Plus, the source literature takes about 20 minutes to read. It simply isn't dense and complex like 'Watchmen'. Directing for style is not the same thing as directing for substance. It's why 'The Matrix' is a great movie and the sequels are a joke. 'Watchmen' simply wasn't recognized as a piece of literature. It was looked at like it was 'GI Joe' or 'Transformers', so that's the kind of director they got. I really hope I'm wrong, believe me, but the trailer looks... well... ridiculous.
I guess the point of this whole thing is say that, yes, I think Frank Miller mostly sucks, but he's not the reason great comics get turned into crappy movies.' He's a symptom of the problem. And honestly, I think the only cure is to only see these films in the theater once and pirate the ever living crap out of those DVDs.**
* Note: Dark Knight Strikes Again is best known for looking like it was drawn by an eight year old.
** Note: This is a joke. We here at Second Printing do not seriously condone piracy of any kind, be it of bad DVDs or Saudi oil tankers. No, we don't like pirates. Pirates can suck it.