Prince of Persia -The Forgotten Sands- / The Sound of
The Sound of Prince of Persia -The Forgotten Sands-
May 20, 2010
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On May 18, Ubisoft released Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands at the same time as the film release for the franchise. The multi-console project actually comprised two games with differing gameplay, graphics, and, indeed, scores. Steve Jablonsky (Transformers, Gears of War 2) led the soundtrack for the next-gen version of the game for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, while Tom Salta (Red Steel, Advanced Warfighter) scored the Wii, PSP, and DS versions of the game. The collector’s edition of the Xbox 360 game in Germany featured a bonus album containing 30 minutes of Jablonsky’s score and 50 minutes of Salta’s. Could this be the definitive album dedicated to the project’s music?
The most compelling feature of Steve Jablonsky’s musical offerings for the next-gen version of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands are its memorable recurring themes. Right from the opening track, Jablonsky exposes a rich melody that recurs in a large proportion of tracks of the score. The melody itself adheres strongly to Remote Control Productions’ convention with its rich shape and serious nature, but is still highly distinctive and memorable. Its treatment throughout the score is also highly impressive. At first, its presentation on “Main Theme” sounds rather clichéd — with fanfare-like brass, barbaric string backing, and, of course, some ethnic chanting. However, the composition manages to sweep listeners away with its development thereafter, whether the gorgeous string solo at the 1:12, the elating choral climax at 1:30, or the suspended conclusion.
Moving to the Wii score, Salta offers a somewhat wider spectrum of themes. The Prince’s Theme “Sacrifice” is a particularly striking introduction of the soundtrack. Salta passes a wailing motif between an Iranian vocalist and a ney instrumentalist to build up a sense of tragedy. Both performers offer exactly the desired qualities for the composition and have a synergistic effect when paired together. While ethnic chanting has become something of a laboured feature of film scores, Azam Ali’s voice is sufficiently expressive and distinctive to overcome the stereotype. Although built using many of the same elements, the sorceress’ theme “Breaking The Seal” creates a very different quality. The vocals of Judith Bérard have a much more ethereal quality to them and provide a sense of divinity. This theme is certainly a highlight on a stand-alone level and, in context, it is bound to be especially striking.
Both scores for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands integrate their component main themes throughout. Jablonsky’s main theme recurs in everything from action themes such as “Combat”, to slow-building atmospheric tracks like “End of Game”, to even short cinematic cues such as “Corridor Break”. Despite the differing treatments, each recurrence always has symbolic meaning and the integration is always achieved in a subtle, artistic way within elaborately orchestrated compositions. It is particularly spectacular how the use of the melody now makes once potentially throwaway tracks such as “Crowling Tower” all that much more wholesome and meaningful. Though less numerous, there are reprises of the core themes throughout the Wii soundtrack too and the recurrence of the Prince’s Theme — especially in the reflective “Loss” — that enhance the accessibility of the soundtrack on a stand-alone basis.
Despite their thematic emphasis and emotional scope, both scores for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands are mostly action-packed ones. Returning to Jablonsky’s score, “Combat” is pretty representative of what to expect from such cues. It initially captures the intensity and context of the battle with its edgy string motifs and use of Arabian percussion samples. Thereafter he charms listeners by reprising the main theme in a brutal fanfare-like form before transitioning to a surprisingly deep interlude and finally transiently experimenting with Arabian tonalities. Most tracks on the Wii soundtrack feature a greater focus on Arabian percussion instruments and are more rhythmically compelling. “The Stranded Castle” and “Harbinger of the Gods” epitomise Salta’s approach; like “Sacrifice”, both tracks are led by middle-Eastern vocals and woodwinds, yet are greatly accentuated — perhaps even overpowered — by their underlying percussion polyrhythms.
However, it is indeed the softer cues on the soundtracks that will inspire most listeners to return for more. “Release of the Djinn” and “End of Game” are particularly impressive examples of the fluid cinematic sound Jablonsky has developed for the game and evolve incredibly during their playtimes. The latter, in particular, is a gorgeous, elegaic recapitulation of the main theme to conclude the soundtrack. Returning to Salta’s soundtrack, Zahra’s theme “The Peri” reflects a more mystical side to the project with its perplexing harp arpeggios and overblown woodwinds. It develops into a more multifaceted entry than the previous themes due to its considerable development, while leaving a certain ambiguity central to the storyline. “The Ancient Halls of Izdihar” meanwhile takes listeners on considerable journey without them even realising it, evolving from its minimalistic origins into its percussive centre in a firm yet subtle manner.
There are many parallels between Jablonsky’s and Salta’s scores for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, including their thematic focus, cinematic emphasis, action-packed cores, and Arabian influences. Yet whereas Jablonsky’s score for the next-gen soundtrack is a rather typical Hollywood-esque soundtrack, Salta’s offerings experiment more with Eastern stylings and have a more personal feel. However, overall Jablonsky’s score is perhaps the most enjoyable as a stand-alone listen, despite both soundtracks being spectacular in context. The presentation of the next-gen soundtrack is considerably better through iTunes, but the treatment of Salta’s score is impeccable in this album and at last provides the public release that it deserved. Overall, this collector’s edition bonus provides a fascinating perspective on two parallel yet distinct musical efforts.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.