Inevitable moviegoer confusion accompanied the world's largest multi-cinema complex.

Located in the 10-acre downtown Eaton Centre shopping development, Cineplex houses 18 theaters. The smallest of them seats 53 and the largest 137, with most accommodating nearly 100.

Occupying 40,000 square feet, it's operated by computerized technology and liad out on a color-coded system that somewhat baffled last week's first-night audiences more accustomed to larger establishments.

Initial puzzlement "will sort out quickly," predict Cineplex owners-veteran Canadian distributor and theater owner Nat Taylor, his longtime partner Harry Mandel, and showbusiness lawyer-movie producer Garth Drabinsky.

Intending to start with at least 10 attractions, the three partners settled on just eight. Seven of them are Canadian premieres: "Tree of Wooden Clogs" from Italy; the Australian-made "Newsfront"; "The Shout," shot in England by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski; "A Purple Taxi," A French-Irish-Italian release; "Queen of the Gypsies," from Russia; "Rain or Shine," from Hungary; and "The Rubber Gun," made in Montreal.

The eighth is a return of the musical"Tommy"augmented by a stereophonic sound specially adapted for 16mm prints. Cineplex operates throughout with 16mm prints rear projected onto a glass screen. The machinery is automated but reuires an attendant in case of breakdown.

A single Cineplex box office runs via a cashier-attended computer and tickets may be purchased anytime on the day of the showing selected by the patron.

"We're catering to fragmented audiences," says Taylor. 'There's a market for any picture ever made and, with our kind of operation, it doesn't matter if audiences aren't too big for any one picture. We don't have the overhead ond the costs involved per film of a theater seating 500 or more. The staff numbers 58, split over three shifts.

At full capacity, the complex could seat 1,600 at one time.

Cineplex will run 10 hours daily seven days a week, with promised fare that includes first-run foreign films (80 percent of which will be subtitled or dubbed into English), reissues of second-time around Hollywood fare, classics in repertory; in fact, anything and everything appealing to specialized movie tastes.

"We had to bring this down to a manageable basis," says Drabinsky. "So we decided on color coding. Once the patron selects a movie, he'll buy a ticket that will have on it one of four colors, red, blue, brown, or purple. He'll match that color to a directional sign overhead in the lobby, go to the area indicated, and he'll find the cinema showing the movie he paid for.

"We're not advertising what theaters the movies are playing in, at least not in newspaper ads. That would only add to the confusion. The movies are listed theater by theater with showing times at the entrance. Or they're available to people telephoning."

The color coding caused problems on opening night. Some patrons, not quite comprehending the instructions, wandered through the lobby into a snack bar area and others into washrooms-all by mistake.

"A color-coded sardine box," muttered one of the earlycomers.

Ten theaters are on the main floor and eight up two flights of stairs. The theaters are being emptied after each screening to allow for cleaning between shows. "This place is going to remain clean, no popcorn boxes left in the theaters and no gum under the seats,"says Taylor. Starting times are staggered, 15 minutes apart.

The theaters themselves are bare, with no center aisle and rows of seats (color matched to the walls in the corridors outside them and to tickets) are pushed away from the walls. However, the corridors curve left and right and pillars dominate corners of some of the theaters.

"This is part of the Eaton Centre parking garage," says Taylor. "We were working with the elements presented to us and we couldn't change them. The structure is as is."

If a movie proves popular, says Drabinsky, it could play in three to four theaters on weekends and then come out of two of them Monday to Thursday, replaced by others. "And the next weekend it could go back into the three or four of them. We're totally flexible.

"There are pockets of movie-going interests not being catered to, say, 20,000 to 30,000 people pockets and we're remaining as flexible as possible to go after them."

What he and his partners learned after opening night is that word's already going around to avoid the front rows because they're too close to the screen.

Total cost of the complex is $2.5 million, of which the three partners put up $2 million and Eaton Centre developers, Cadillac Fairview, the rest.

Scheduled for the next few months: four Yiddish movies made in the 1940s, "Stevie" with Glenda Jackson, 49 Italian films purchased in bulk from that country's national film releasing company and aimed particularly at Toronto's Italian population which numbers 350,000 to 400,000 and several efforts from Portugal.

Taylor, radiation confidence, is already talking of duplicating Cineplex operations in other cities across Canada. He claims to have pioneered the World's first twin cinema in Ottawa in 1948 and said duals, triples, and others"helped savethe motion picture business."