EXCLUSIVE: Doug Liman has climbed aboard Everest, a Sony Pictures drama about George Mallory and his three attempts in the early 1920s to become the first man to climb the world’s highest mountain. The film, an adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s book Paths Of Glory, has a script by Sheldon Turner. Jennifer Klein is producing. Liman has several projects percolating, including Luna, a moon mission film that Paramount Pictures and New Regency are trying to make work, as well as Warner Bros’ Dante Harper-scripted drama All You Need Is Kill. Liman, who directed the action hits The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is himself an avid climber and a fan of the Mallory story. He is in the midst of a deal to supervise the next draft by Turner with the intention to direct a film that is a priority at Sony Pictures.

The film is about Mallory’s burning obsession to climb to the top of Mount Everest, and a rivalry with another great climber, Australian George Finch (the grandfather of actor Peter Finch), to get there first. While Everest has been scaled many times (though bodies are littered near the top of the summit of those who failed), the feat was symbolically important and for its time was akin to landing on the moon. Great Britain had been decimated by WWI, there was poverty and angst and the nation needed a hero to rally around. Mallory became that hero, even as he was forced to return short of his goal on his first two attempts in 1921 and 1922. At the same time, he was a devoted husband and father, and his family wanted him home. After refusing to use oxygen to aid him in high altitude on the first two attempts, he and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, changed tactics for their final run for the mountaintop in 1924. They were glimpsed near the top as they started the final approach to the top, but then disappeared in the clouds and were never heard from again.

Debate continues over whether Mallory reached the top, and it continued even after his remains were found in 1999 by climber Conrad Anker, 75 years after Mallory’s disappearance. Anker’s discovery — and subsequent attempt to scale Everest using the same thin garments, equipment and route used by Mallory and Irvine — was the subject of a remarkable 2010 Anthony Geffen-directed documentary, The Wildest Dream. One of the intriguing things was what wasn’t found on Mallory. He took with him a photo of his wife, which he vowed to place atop Everest. It was not found in his possessions. The first successful climb in which the men returned to tell the tale didn’t come until 1953, when New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali sherpa climber Tenzing Norgay. Turner, who shared an Oscar nomination for co-writing Up In The Air, will make his directorial debut on By Virtue Fall, which he is producing with Klein. Both Liman and Turner are repped by CAA.