President-elect Ronald Reagan's four-day inauguration that officially begins Saturday will be the most expensive in history -- an elaborate production with top-hat pageantry and gee-whiz gadgetry straight from Hollywood.

Laser light shows, two hugh fireworks displays, performances by dozens of big-name entertainers and nine invitation-only inaugural balls telecast across the nation via satellite are some of the events during the $8 million-plus celebration. The plans are so grand that Reagan inaugural officials are running out of superlatives to describe them. Every event, they claim, is the biggest or best ever held in Washington.

Only one word can describe the 40th president's inauguration, officials say, and that is extravaganza.

"Some folks," said one inaugural official with a beaming smile, "are jokingly calling it a coronation."

Limousines. Morning coats. $500-a-plate candlelight dinners at the Kennedy Center. The events and style with which Reagan is coming to Washington are a marked contrast to President Carter's "y'all come, people celebration" in 1977.

Carter invited everyone to his inaugural. Long-haired hitchhikers came from California and rowdy Georgians rode to town in an 18-car train dubbed the "Peanut Special." Rambunctious Carter supporters were everwhere. To them it wasn't a highfalutin' ceremony, but a giant victory party for a fellow good 'ole boy.

That was four years ago, before a 69-year-old Hollywood actor turned politican romped over the so-called "people's president" at the polls.

"The official events for [Reagan's] inauguration will reflect the [former California] governor's respect for the office of president and his personal approach to the affairs of the office," explained Reagan's inaugural committee cochairman Robert Gray. "To demonstrate his respect for the office, the governor will wear formal attire for the inauguration ceremony. He will ride in an automobile from the Capitol to the White House (unlike Carter.)"

The inauguration is a symbol, Gray continued, and Reagan's production is designed to show America that its new president knows how to throw the biggest and best inauguration ever.

While Reagan's inauguration will have fewer free public events than Carter's five-day people's celebration, Reagan's events will be grander, inaugural planners claim. Four major free events -- fireworks displays Saturday and Tuesday, the inaugural parade Tuesday and a Capitol Hill concert afterwards -- are designed to keep the public gawking. But the real inaugural show-stoppers are being reserved for an estimated 100,000 guests who either had the money, status or clout to be invited to star-studded galas, private candlelight and lavish receptions for Reagan and Bush.

Reagan's inaugural planners say they have drawn the creme de la creme of America to perform at various events, in sharp contrast to Carter's inaugural where a youngster with a banjo wandered into inaugural headquarters and was put on stage at one show.

Another sharp contrast is the price of tickets. In 1977, no ticket cost more than $25, so that everyone could participate. Tickets to Reagan's events range from $10 to $500 and attendance is being limited so that ticket-buyers can receive red-carpet treatment.

"If you want to see the difference, just look at the parade route," says one long-time inaugural watcher. Carter did not want many bleacher seats along the route so that more people could see. Reagan's committee has built more bleachers than ever before -- 26,000 seats for sale, with 12,000 priced at $100 each and another 6,000 at $75.

Part of the reason for the high prices are high bills. Carter's inaugural cost $3.5 million, while Reagan's will cost an estimated $8 million-plus. "The best always costs more," one Reagan official said. Besides, he continued, the committee will raise enough contributions and sell enough inaugural doodads to not only pay all the bills, but give the left-over to charity.

The first official inaugural event occurs today when top Reagan aides tour the Taste of America festival at Union Station. Rather than mail tickets to all of Reagan's guests, the committee invited them to Union Station to pick up their package of tickets and sample free food from restaurants from across the nation while they wait.

The opening inaugural ceremony is at 6 p.m. Saturday at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform.The Reagans and Bushes are expected to appear briefly to watch a laser light show and giant fireworks display that will end with the lighting of a 50-foot high fireworks portrait of Reagan and Bush.

Invitation-only guests will be attending countless receptions this weekend hosted by Washington lobbyists, Republican big-shots and corporation executives. Breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties and late night parties will keep certified ticket-holders on an 18-hour-a-day pace munching delights like jelly beans (Reagan's favorite candy) and Tex-Mex hors d'oeuvres, a Bush favorite.

Area business will be hawking Reagan memorabilia. A Georgetown disco is peddling Reagan punch and the National Historical Wax Museum will unveil its new Reagan wax figure at a solemn Sunday ceremony.

Reagan will be sworn in at noon on Tuesday at the West Front of the Capitol. People without tickets will not be allowed onto the Capitol grounds, but officials said the ceremony can be seen from First Street along Union Square.

The parade is set for 2:15 p.m. along Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. Afterwards, the public is invited to a free band concert at the Capitol's West Front, followed at 5:15 p.m. by fireworks.

During Richard Nixon's 1969 inauguration, deomonstrators tried to crash the parade and throw garbage at the new president. There weren't any demonstrations at Carter's inaugural, but police report several are planned at Reagan's. Two of the biggest are planned by the National Organization for Women, whose demonstrators will wear green sashes and wave "ERA YES" placards along the parade route, and a group known as the Dec. 6th coalition plans a counter-inaugural rally at the Ellipse with antidraft, antinuclear and pro-ERA speakers.

Counter-inaugural balls, private inaugural balls and the nine official inaugural balls will be held Tuesday night. The only official inaugural ball open to the public is the youth ball at the Mayflower Hotel, but it's for persons between the age of 18 and 35. Tickets cost $40, but also can be used to attend a Beach Boys concert Monday night. Reagan originally said he would not attend the youth ball, but now plans to appear briefly.

While party-goers are dancing, television cameras will transmit ballroom music and scenes from Washington across the country to private satellite balls. Originally, 107 such balls were planned, but that number dropped to 85 this week, mostly because of technical difficulties, officials said.

"Gov. Reagan wanted to share his inauguration with as many Americans as possible," Gray said. "Television is the way to reach most people, and most events were planned with television in mind.

"I will have succeeded in this job if I make the best seat at the inauguration the one in your living room sitting in front of the television," Gray said.

"It's not going to be like the so-called people's celebration Carter had," said one of the 3,500 volunteers at inaugural headquarters. "This one is going ot have dignity and class."